Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicago Art...in the winter

After a linger breakfast with lots of coffee, we (Jeanne Heckman, Martha and I) took the elevated/subway into Chicago for a day at the Art Institue

Getting off the train at Monroe and Deaborn dropped us right in front of the Chagall mosaic cube. Though there was a cold wind blowing, all of us were amazed by his use of color and floating imagery

We went through too many rooms to remeber, but I was captured by the raw energy of Lautrec's and Van Gogh's lines and color choices. It still fascinates me how one painting (or sculpture) in a room almost grabs me and stops me to speak to me!

After an entire day seeing way too much beauty, we went to Millenium Park to see the giant photo cube, outdoor ice rink and the outdoor sculpture.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Time: a friend of yours?

OK, I'm still chewing on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and how ridiculous it was that time ran backwards for one man while forwards for everyone else! But it has caused me to mull all day on two ideas, one from a friend and one from a conversation with my dad. A friend of mine noted (even confessed) how trapped he got in isolated individualism. It's a pervasive condition in our isolated culture. In fact, our culture breeds both individualism ("You deserve a break today") and isolation ("Nobody will ever know"). These two things wreak havoc on my spiritual life. Both are lies: that I am alone and and that what I want at this moment really is most important.
Where does "Benjamin Button" come in? The clock. Is time your friend? Does time matter positively? Does history matter? Do you let history teach you? If so, how? Man pastors (myself included) often think that we don't really need history. I don't really need to know the story of the church before I came, because my arrival is the most significant time! I don't need to know about other churches, other denominations, other movements because....what I'm doing now is the apex of the curve. What a bunch of hooey! I need to know where I come from and where my church comes from and where our culture comes from. I need to get in more dialogical partnerships with those around me to keep myself connected...and alive.

Room with a view

It's bright. It's beautiful. It's cold! I'm now beginning the second leg of the adventure. Last week was spent totally devoted to my parents (9:00-6:30 pm) and then the evenings were fun adventures with Isaac (see movie review below!). This morning Isaac dropped me off at the airport for an 11:30 am American flight to Chicago. The AA attendant at the auto-check in asked where I was going. When I told her my flight time, she said that it was running late, but if I hurried I could easily get on the 9:45 flight. I raced through security and down the hallway, getting on as the last person with the door closing. I was 28f (back of the plane against a window). When I got down there, all the seats were filled, except mine. I had a 3x seat all to myself, a fresh cup of coffee and my ipod devotional podcast "prayasyougo." 50 minutes later we were landing in Chicago, got the airport shuttle and checked into the room.
Martha and Jeanne should arrive tonight around 7pm so we will have a late dinner together and on to "sacred space."

Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

What's really curious about the Case of Benjamin Button is why it goes on so long....almost 3 hours? Isaac and I decided to see a movie on our last night together. A friend recommended that this was a great movie, so we went. Isaac normally has a fine sense of the cinema. The photography was excellent, some unique lens filters creating and antique patina. There were great period sets and a fun romp on a tug-boat. Different characters were truly unique: a guy who randomly was hit by lightening, a short African man, a tattooed tug-boat captain, and a mysterious English lady. But scene went to scene, went to scene, and more scenes. I think the draw was the magic of Brad Pitt looking better and better. Our theater had a majority of women in it, who delighted in the long shots of Brad Pitt looking dashing and innocent. But come on....for three hours?
What made the movie go over the top and crash was the preposterous ending (which I will spare you). It could have concluded well an hour earlier with ease. Oh well. At least Isaac and I did share a pop-corn and a good time together.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cuban Dinner

It was another full day with my folks; care conference for an hour with my brother, fixing a broken hearing aid, lunch out at Byerly's and then long and lingering conversations. It was a good day of just being calmly present with my parents. The day turned warmer and grayer. When I left at 6:30 it was snowing outside. I love driving in the snow. I picked up Isaac at work and he drove me to Victor's, a little hole-in-the-wall Cuban restaurant in his neighborhood. The graffitied walls and candles made for a delightful ambience and the food was delicious.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everyone and No one

Today I spent the entire day with my folks at Covenant Village. It was a day devoted to sitting, running an errand, and paying attention. There are things that can be said only after time spent sitting and listening. One thing my dad and I talked about was the trend that makes everyone an expert. Simply by liking something, you are qualified to be an expert. Maybe it's a rejection of institutionalizing of learning and the decentralizing of expertise. Maybe it's due to the proliferation of information on the web and blog experts (like me) of every sort.
But what distilled our talk was the phrase "When everyone is a musician, no one is." Everyone like music. Today with iTunes etc, everyone makes, mixes and makes their own music. And I see people who dabble in music and call themselves musicians, without any formal training. Their passionate love of music and music making makes them musicians. But does it?
People buy high end cooking gear at Sur la Table, go to a gourmet store and whip up a good dinner and consider themselves chefs. We all eat, and most of us like to eat. We have strong opinions and maybe some kitchen skills (mine are all on the outdoor grill). We then consider ourselves food experts, wine experts, chocolate experts and coffee experts, just because we consume a product more than most people.
Some people love art. They pick up a brush, make some strokes, get some feedback and now call themselves artists. They learn a technique for painting, sculpture or photo-shop and call think of themselves as artists, without knowing art history or spending time under and with other artists, being critiqued and critiquing. Sales and success dictate that they are now artists. But are they?
Because a person loves Jesus and reads the Word, is he/she now a theologian or a pastor? In some situations it does. In some more low-church environments, the entry standards are little more than integrity and enthusiasm.
But does the completion of a degree program and years spent in the trenches also make on an expert? I don't think so. I think a number of things must match up before one is called a ____________:
1. Serious and disciplined training in an institution or under a master
2. A body of work or track record that shows you know what you are talking about.
3. A cognitive grasp of the theory of your particular craft that demonstrates you know why you do what you do and what you don't do.
4. Peer recognition

Monday, January 26, 2009

In Minneapolis

I arrived in Minneapolis around 10 pm to temperature of 4 degrees above zero! Whew! Is that ever cold! Isaac met me without having had dinner, so he offered me a choice of places, including White Castle. We picked up a bag of slides and went home and had a feast. If you've never had sliders, it is a tasty experience!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Congregational Annual Meetings on Sunday

This was number 28, give or take a couple special ones. What I'm talking about is the Annual Meeting of a congregation. For Covenant Churches, that have congregational polity, it is a time of high energy, conflict, boredom or joy. Today's annual meeting was one of the latter; a spilling over from the worship of the morning into the deliberations of the afternoon with a chili-cook-off by the student ministries in between. Those who know me, realize that I am about to admit being wrong (I hate that!). I have argued, basically unsuccessfully for years about NOT having an annual meeting or business meeting on Sundays. Sabbath rest and days devoted to worship and non-work are too few. When we take a Sunday and then re-gather for the nitty gritty of budget deliberations and personnel issues, ministry evaluations and whatever the congregation wants to talk about, it can be ugly. Since I've been through 28 of these, there have been a number of train-wrecks over the years, where harsh things were said and relationships wounded. It's been a time that staff could fear because everything we make is exposed to "public" scrutiny. Often the staff has been invited out of the room for the compensation portion, then invited back in when it was over.
But over the years in both Minneapolis and Santa Barbara, our meetings have been smooth and sweet. Today's was exceptional in this brutal economic climate (we spent under budget and still came in with a deficit that had to be met). What made it sweet was the preparation driven by the church chairman. For months the staff worked intimately with the budget committee to bring a visionary and realistic budget to the congregation. We worked and prayed over these numbers and columns many, many times. So when the incoming Treasurer presented the budget, he did so with such transparency and accuracy, there was hardly a ripple, but deep comments of appreciation and approval. The chairman linked what happened in worship with what we were doing here in the meeting with song and story and gratitude from him to the congregation.
I'm not sure that would have all happened had I won my argument for a Tuesday night meeting. Few people would have showed up (vs the semi-filled sanctuary this afternoon) and we would not have been coming out of worship, refreshed from a meal and happy with our many conversations with friends. So, this will be a battle I'm not fighting any more because it worked so well today. What's that about old dogs?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In an interesting post on buildings argues for "spaceless churches" that put their money into mission and ministry and not into building and pipe organs. As a pastor of a church without a pipe organ (the past three had them) but a lovely building, I want to challenge that thought. First of all, it's a bit gnostic. It assumes an incarnationless style of ministry that has now shell, no housing, no place in time and history. It sounds urban and edgy to materialize in some temporary place for a while then dissolve back into the community, leaving no architectural footprint. Yes, that is appealing for a church like ours that carries a $7,000+ monthly mortgage. That could support some significant staffing or sent overseas, carry whole ministries.
But, we are creatures of space. We inhabit houses and cities. Our space sends messages and signals about availability and presence. It opens us to both criticism and to questions. In the past year, our ministry space became a central location for a community rocked by devastating fires, in search of an Al Anon location, a place for Sheriffs and policemen to play basketball, a place where gang members can be creatively mentored with basketball, a place where children can learn music after school, and a place where members of "buildingless" churches really want their daughters to be married.
Yeah, keeping up a building requires a lot of work that is less-than-spiritual. Talking about parking lot conditions is not a devotional high point. But it is also very much a challenge of incarnational stewardship. Jesus used synagogues in addition to the hills and paths. He loved the Jerusalem Temple even though he criticized the abuses within it.
I will bless my eager friends who wish to pursue buildingless ministries. But when you need a wedding or funeral, give me a call.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to leave their nets and come follow him in Mark 1:14-20, he was inviting them on a journey of life-long learning. They were fisherman, deeply rooted, well-trained the hard way and, I would guess, set in their professional ways as adults can be. I know I have my preferred routines for writing sermons, conducting weddings and funerals, for leading staff meetings and participating in church councils. I've done it pretty well for a bunch of years. I like doing the "teaching" and not so much the "learning." I like being recognized as a successful leader and not as an eager follower. Maybe it's age, maybe it's gender, maybe it's ethnicity. But when I took Jesus' words into my world and thought how I'd respond if he told me to "drop my" (pastoral) "nets" and come follow me. I'm not sure then next adverb would be "immediately!"
In the past years I've learned some new skills (blogging, twittering, face-booking, cutting and pasting, and living on email. I've learned new technologies, but not always new attitudes. I'm learning to live in a new environment, maybe even a new culture, but I have not shed my old prejudices and entitlements.
These are opportune days for me and for the church to drop some old nets and learn some new ways to fish.

Hard Times for You? Read This.

These are new and tough times for the church. Things are changing rapidly around us, and for some of us used to older ways of doing church, it's disconcerting and disorienting. We can bemoan the loss of sacrosanct Sunday mornings. We can complain about people's busy schedules and lack of willingness to serve on committees and boards. I have not talked to a pastor yet who had people waiting in line to serve. We can worry about making our 2009 budgets in this uncertain economy and what it means to our investments and retirement plans. In short, we pastor can easily get pulled into the culture malaise around us.
Then my brother sent me a letter from a good friend of his and mine, Abednego. Yes, that's his real name. He is a Zimbabwean pastor who earned his MDiv in Washington DC and attended the church my brother Tim served. After earning his degree he turned down opportunities to stay in the US and opted to return to serve several churches in Zimbabwe. Here is a latest excerpt from a letter to Tim:
The Bindura Blade Update
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope this finds you well and some of you celebrating the inauguration of President Obama. We watched the inauguration live on DStv praying that one day we will be able to have an inauguration of our own. By the way, the inauguration was not even broadcasted on Zimbabwe TV. What a shame! They do not want the nation to see what is happening around the world. We are praying that our leaders will “unclench their fists” and join the world leaders in bringing peace and freedom to the people. We need your prayers badly.
Cholera is killing many people here, even in our own town. Many people have been hospitalized. The whole situation here remains pathetic. The economy is worse than yesterday, or even worse than the last hour. One US dollar buys between 3 -20 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. The currency here is worthless. There is no store that will accept Zimbabwe money. Either you need US dollars or the South African Rand to buy anything. Economists here say that an average family here needs approximately $2000 USD a month to make ends meet. Just a few people earn in the hard currency. Most of the people are still earning the worthless Zimbabwean dollars. This makes life difficult for many people.
Nevertheless, we still thank God for the life and protection He gives us. Last Sunday 8 people gave their lives to Christ. The previous Sunday 4 gave their lives to Christ. The church continues to grow. We have started this year on a high note. On February 1st, we are going to introduce our first second service. This means we will be holding two services every Sunday, one in the morning and second late afternoon. God is good regardless of what is happening in our country. We pray that many people will be motivated to come to the Lord during these hard times.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Poster of ????

Our friend V.E. has an exciting future ahead of her as an icon for hope, change, morphing????

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: the perch

Our friend V.E. wrote us about a long and exciting ride with lots of people. She got unbelievably close to the event...see below.

Inauguration Insider: Monday's Parties

Our friend V.E. had a full day of three parties all over DC, riding the very jammed metro, seeing the original Obama poster, walking in heels through snow (she is a California girl now and finds that weird) and then noisy parties with old friends and new ones. Me? I'm glad to watch it all from a quiet distance.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Meetings as a time-waster

Reid Hastie, a professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago has an excellent article on the inadvertent way meetings waste our time. He tells the story of a typical meeting that rambles off the agenda and on to tangential stories that last too long and frustrate participants, who must have another meeting to "pick up where the last meeting left off." Today Martha and I talked about how the meetings we have gone through in life, led by good people, leave participants exhausted and discouraged. Hastie brings three recommendations: the one who calls the meeting "should be explicit about its objective", "everyone should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting", and lastly "after productive or unproductive meetings assign credit or blame to the person in charge."
That person is often me with so many church and staff meetings. I wonder if I should design an evaluation card to hand out to all participants to give each meeting a grade? When Martha and I discussed the myriad of meetings we have attended in our lives, we realized that very few generate creativity and often bring further burdens and distractions to what we both love doing most (me: preaching, teaching, encouraging people and Martha; working with students who are eager to learn about printmaking). I am deeply grateful for our current church chairman who never calls a meeting without a written, explicit agenda and stays on time. How I wish other meetings were so well-focussed.

Inauguration Insider

Our long time friend V.S. was invited to the Inauguration by one of the administration insiders and has posted some pictures of her adventure, giving me permission to pass them along.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins

In Scot McKnight's blog he linked to a blog on the 7 deadly sins of theologians It's a great little article that could easily be expanded into academia and the church. Our sense of pride and accomplishment; our need to achieve and criticize others; our aversion to suffering lead us into these seven deadly sins. Great post!

Fellowship of the Called Ones

The weather-vane and the staff. The instrument that tells us about the weather situation and the staff that leads us on and out. That's the theme of worship today: discipleship as a fellowship of called ones, not volunteers. Exploring our sense of call, evaluating the condition of the weather in our souls is what I hope to do in worship in a few moments.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where's Your Neighborhood?

I live in a small neighborhood. Nestled into the hills of Santa Barbara, the church and parsonage are sandwiched between walled estates and tightly packed homes. Some days I do not even leave the property, since I walk from the parsonage to the office and up the hill to Westmont if I need to meet a member on campus. It's very immediate. The photo below shows Cold Spring Road going North/South and the church steeple on the top of the picture and the Westmont campus lower right. I took these pictures on a walk yesterday with the owner of a large tract of land above our neighborhood. In fact it's the land where the fires began that burned so many homes in the fall. He invited me to join him and a local historian to tour the land that was developed around 1910 by a wealthy San Francisco Tea trader.

When we walked the mile, curving road to the top of what is called the Tea Garden (made by the first owner to have tea and view the ocean in comfort), that's when I saw the bigger picture below. The view is looking east, beyond Summerland, Caprinteria, Ventura....all the way to the tip of Oxnard and the air base there. That's my bigger neighborhood from 2,000 feet.
The challenge I have is to keep a high enough altitude in life to see the bigger picture and not get caught up in the trees and bushes on the ground. Of course we are not birds and we must navigate through the trees and bushes, lot lines and strip malls. Gravity holds us to the dirt and we are bound with others who walk/drive among us. This is the immediate neighborhood of the moment, of now. But it is not where I am bound nor where I must go. AT 2,000 feet (much less think of the views we get at 30,000 feet!!!) I can see where we can go, should go, might go.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Next M-4 Project: bathrooms

M-4, the moniker for the coordinated efforts of the four churches in Montecito (Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Covenant) has taken on some big challenges. Twice we worked with World Vision to fund, pack and send 1,000 and then 2,000 HIV/AIDS care-giver kits to Africa. Twice we purchased back packs and school supplies and filled them for 800 and later 900 local K-12 students.
But because of the economic hit on both the local poor and the local relief agencies, we decided to address bathrooms. In the neighboring town of Carpinteria there is a camper park holding 53 vacation-style campers. The one pictured below houses a family of five year-round with no toilet/shower facility. These 53 campers hold 153 people

The plan was to demolish the campers and construct permanent housing on this ideal site. But again the economy threw a curve ball at the agency non-profit managing these campers and they cannot build any time soon. What do they use for rest-rooms? See below:

I took these pictures this afternoon and we have a young man from church doing a You-Tube for M-4 later next week. The ventilation is not sufficient for the volume of use. The result is that many of the younger children, school age children do not take showers at all, or at least infrequently. It is not conducive for young people's modesty, not to mention adults. It's right here in my back yard and it needs improving now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Death of the Big Box

A radio report today said something like "as we are seeing the demise of the big box store across America, so too will we see the decline of the big box for education." They went on to talk about all the ways people can configure their own personal menu of educational experiences from private, subscription, on-line, intensive on-sites, etc. Is it decentralizing education or fragmenting it? There is something liberating in the populism of people hand-crafting their educational experiences and something also pretty disturbing. How many pastors would elect to take two semesters of head-pounding Greek and systematic theology? Yet these are foundational classes for all the "fun" ones later. I needed to be pushed (sometimes literally) to take the classes I did not want, but needed.
Is the same process at work in spiritual formation? Is there a decline in the "big box" method of spiritual formation? The big box of a church building at a set time and place with assigned teachers and preachers? Are all the alternative offerings basically good things? Or do they risk creating truncated Christians who gravitate to places and pastor that validate their opinions and make them feel good? The cultural dominance of the church in the culture is long-dead, and that's probably a pretty good thing because we in the clergy and institutional denominations have not done that good of a job stewarding our affluence. George Barna's recent post illustrates how American Christians are living a far more ala carte style of theology and belief than ever before. Where churches and denominations used to cohesively define and clarify belief, we have become a nation of belief-grazers who assemble a mash-mash of beliefs and preferences that are not always coherent or consistent, and we know that and don't really care.
The question I wonder about is who will shape faith?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jail & Baptism

Walking into the jail I wondered if it would work. On my monthly jail services I preach/teach the same text as I use at church in the morning. If you look back at the blog post two down from here you can see the wonderful baptismal font at MCC. That was the focal point of the service today, with an invitation for baptismal renewal after the service. During the first service a modest number came forward to swirl their hands in the waters. But after the second service, a flood of people came forward, some crying as they renewed their baptismal vows. As I thought the crowd was thinning, a very old and frail woman shuffled to the font on the arm of her daughter and a friend. As she dipped her hand into the waters I was overcome by God's grace. She "got it" so totally. She wanted to go back to the waters that claim her, name her and love her. Then another old woman was wheeled down in her wheel-chair by her daughter and she reached in and let her hand just float in the water. What could go deeper than that?
At the guard station I asked for a container of water. They looked quizzically at me, but soon gave me an empty styrofoam cereal bowl. I went to the drinking fountain as all the guys were lining up and silently filled the bowl. As we walked to the classroom, I could sense their eyes on me and that bowl. When it came time to teach, I set that little styrofoam bowl in the center of the room and preached the same (without notes and with a lot of their help) sermon as in the morning. At the end, I placed the bowl above on a chair in the middle of the room and said "Here is the font of your baptismal water, come if you wish and renew your vows." All but three of the men (17) came up and took time dipping their hands in the waters, touching their faces and cheeks, praying and smiling. The three who did not come, looked to me and said, "We are not baptized. Would you come back and baptize us?" How cool is that? So my next adventure will be performing a jail baptism of three inmates. It's all good!

October trip to Greece: next week

Next Sunday, January 18th we are having an information meeting for a potential trip October 1-11, 2009 to Greece to follow the journeys of Paul. It is open to MCC members and friends and anyone else who is interested in having the way they read their Bible permanently changed.
Bible travel began during my days in Minneapolis due to the urging of my friend Dave Erickson. He said, "Don, you're a pretty good preacher, but you could be better, if you walked the area where the Bible was written." I had resisted these canned religious trips for years. Nothing seemed more boring to me than to travel around as a large heard in a big bus with some guy waving us through with a flag. Dave asked me to trust him. I did. And it changed the way I read the Bible, preach and even travel. We made friends on those trips (six now) like nowhere else. The organization that puts the trips together is Educational Opportunities out of Lakeland Fla. We will only take 30 people so we can have one bus to ourselves. The total cost from LAX will be about $3,000 airfare/hotel, breakfast & dinner and all bus travel and entry fees. While $3,000 is a lot, it's still a pretty good deal. Email me if you are interested.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dinner Tutorial

Friends invited us to dinner at the Montecito Cafe last night. As we were eating, I asked my friend about his take on the economy. "Do you really want to know?" he asked. "Yeah" I said, "What do you really think?" He pushed his chair back and began. He's been in business for 50 years and has seen all sorts of market fluctuations. "This one is different" he said. "It used to be that recessions were restricted to one country or one area of the country. This time it's everywhere. It's global." Then he said "Secondly, I don't think our government is working. The two party system has not been able to get the job done. Instead they keep retrenching into us and them." He then illustrated his concern by examining the state of California and how he told his sales people to hold off working with the state because they are so tardy in paying on their contracts. "Lastly" he said "I have never seen the level of greed in this country as in the last years. Nobody is worth $100 million dollars!" He then talked about a culture without ethical standards, where cheating is ok if you don't get caught and a refusal to take responsibility for one's actions. We then had a long talk about what it means to take personal responsibility, from buying homes and things a consumer know he/she can't afford to giving loans to people who will never be able to pay and then selling these bad loans to others who sell them to others till they end up in China.
What's a solution? Personal responsibility and ethical transparency. "I'm glad I have an outside board of directors looking over my shoulder to make sure my decisions are good for the long run" he said. It reminded me of Jesus' encounter with the Roman Centurion who identified himself as "a man under authority." The evening was one of those serendipitous blessings of having a wise man's undivided attention.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Baptism's Waters

Mark 1:4-11 is the text for this Sunday, celebrating the baptism of Jesus and the inauguration of Epiphany season. What's the big deal about baptism? Why is it important for believers to return to, renew, & remember? There is little more primal than water, more ubiquitous and taken for granted. Yet it is in and around these waters that God spoke creation into being, purchased freedom for the slaves, sweetened bitterness, sprang out of the rock, stilled the storm, offered himself at the well, walked across the waves and stood at the Easter shore. The waters flow out of the new Jerusalem and feed the trees of life.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Centrality of What??

The Covenant Midwinter Conference leadership ask Martha and Jeanne to help design the "platform" for the meetings. As you might know, Jeanne and Martha design the altar-pieces at Montecito Covenant Church almost every week based on the text being preached. It's been a great process of give-and-take with these two creative women. They ask me for the text, theme and ideas, then they go brainstorm. Hours or days later they come back to me with ideas bout textures, colors, images and objects. We have interesting go-arounds about what works and what doesn't. But I am always moved by what results, pushing me to preach the word with greater clarity and precision.
This week I overheard their conversations about planning the design for the Midwinter event where the theme is the Centrality of the Word. With many sessions and a number of speakers, they kept asking and wondering about unifying themes and directions. It was great fun for me to listen to their creative process with someone else.
What I have been pondering since this conversation is the issue of centrality. What is "central" for a church? How does architecture reinforce or undercut what is central? What role does the visual play in determining what is central? What gets the most light is central because our eyes are drawn to the brightest objects. What is higher is more central to what is lower. What is in front is more central to that which is behind.
So, as you go into your church this week, what is most central? Cross, altar, pulpit, Bible, band, screen, organ, ????

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Needing a New Map

The numbers are in for 2008 giving to Montecito Covenant. We made 92% of the budget goal after years of ending with either a balance or a surplus. I've talked to a number of other pastors who told me if they got within 90% they felt good. 2009 and beyond will require a new map for ministry based on new assumptions and new realities. The map pictured above once worked fairly well for explorers. It is clearly out of date now for the USA. We constantly update our maps today. The church needs some new maps. The question is where to get those new maps. Whose making them? Who understands the new boundaries and contours of our culture and the Body of Christ?
This is not a rant on the traditional church, denomination or organizations. They have been faithful servants for years, decades, and centuries. But the map is changing, or better yet, the old map is not as accurate as it once was. Who are the cartographers? Are they those classically trained or those out in the field? Are they from the the ancient church, the reformation churches, the revivalist communities, the emergent or post-emergent?
The first real maps that we will see emerging in 2009 will be proposed operating budgets that will reflect new, reconfigured priorities. It would be helpful to have someone as astute as Dave Olson analyze what this could look like.

The Word Became Flesh

John 1: 1-18 is the text for today, the glorious prologue of the Gospel of John. As a preacher, it is akin to writing a paragraph describing Mt Everest, or a sentence to describe my marriage. Every word and phrase is dense with meaning and truth. The prologue does not describe the rest of the book, but contains it in distilled form. THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US!
A friend who is from an evangelical background and married a Roman Catholic shared that she always heard "the Word" and understood it to be "the Bible" until she started worshiping at the Catholic church and participates in a Bible study there. There, she says, "the Word" always means "Jesus." The beginning of 2009 with all the woundedness of 2008 and fears about the future are bound and found in the Word....Jesus.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009 Good News: Faith2Share

In Brad Boydston's blog this morning, he provided a link to a refreshing group that is radically re-thinking what global missions is all about. Faith2Share is a global, ecumenical, evangelical gathering of missional leaders with a "whole new dance" approaching world mission. What is the new dance? It is the recognition of "missions from below" that is spreading the good news of Jesus rapidly around the globe. This is missions the hard way; through refugees, foreign domestic workers, international students, and email. This is missions without organizational infrastructure and denominational support. It's an old argument I heard in seminary about the relative cost of supporting someone like me in another country versus the many more local nationals those same dollars could support.
The question that brews in my mind on January 1, 2009 with the global recession knocking on the doors of the church budget is this: are there better and smaller ways to do God's big kingdom work? Are there other partners who are emerging on the front lines of mission? That's risky business because all the Covenant missionaries I know are personal friends and I know their deep sense of call and commitment. I don't want to invalidate or undercut missions, but open the door to new partnerships for these new days. Read the article linked above. What would be some next steps?

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