Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mission Springs...Ice Cream!

There is no way to make a 500 mile trip in a suburban with four high schoolers and three adults a pretty thing! It was noisy, cramped and sweaty, funny and even quiet. We took US 5 from San Diego through Los Angeles up the grape vine and up the valley to Santa Cruz. The guys were really great travelers, watching movies, playing games, listening to each others' ipods on shuffle for 15 minute blocks of time and playing 20 questions.
We arrived at Mission Springs just near the setting of the sun, so that Lisa could take the guys on a hike to "her" redwood stump they climbed/fought over.
We then drove into Santa Cruz for clam chowder and a walk on the pier (interrupted by a video motorcycle race I was goaded into playing ...I race only Garrett Prather and still came in 6th!! What an insult). After walking the pier, we hit the world famous ice cream store in Santa Cruz (whose name I forgot just now) and ate some more. Tomorrow we head into San Francisco to eventually visit San Quentin Prison and see some other urban ministries.

Video arcade racing

At Mission Springs

In & Out

Lisas peanut butter assault

Lisa and the Boys watching biking!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Surprised by Grace

It was meant to be a nice overnight stop. Beth and Casey Gwinn have a daughter who goes to Westmont and volunteered her parents' home for our group to spend the night in San Diego. But shortly after meeting Casey, we realized we needed to hear his story. San Diego City Attorney for many years, he became "called" into advocating for victims of domestic violence and abuse. Through his leadership over 40 centers have been established around the country and the world. Championed by President Bush and featured on Oprah, he has a singular commitment to stop the endless cycle of violence that begets violence. We sat in stunned silence around their fire-pit as he told us his unlikely story of being called by God to make a difference. Whew!

Playing on the beach in San Diego

The boys, and we adults, needed play time after some tough
conversations on immigration and faith.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saying goodbye to Garrett

This afternoon, after worshiping at River of Life Church, feasting on Korean BBQ, touring the Simon Wiesenthal Tolerance Museum and hearing a presentation about migrant workers, we had coffee downtown LA and then said goodbye to fearless Garrett Fujiwara, who accompanied us since we left Santa Barbara Saturday afternoon. Garrett, who chairs the MCC Community Outreach Committee and is loved and respected by the guys, gave up a weekend to be with us (and eat meals with us!!).
Now everyone is relaxing with a movie, getting ready for tomorrow's adventure to San Diego and a trip to the border. The issue of immigration is touchy. When presenters talk about basic human rights for having clean water and rest rooms, we all nod our heads in agreement. But when we talk about immigration policy specifics and legislation for health care reform, then conversations get politicized. We will, no doubt, walk into more of these conversations in the next days together.
The guys are great to be with, thought it's truly amazing to see how much they consume and how often they get legitimately hungry again!!

Waiting for pizza

Starbucks break

Enough time in museums and vans. We are taking a walking break at LA
Live for an hour before heading back to Rolling Hills.

Lunch with Walter & Cecilia Contratas

River of Life Covenant Church

Morning Devotions

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rolling Hills Covenant

This is the last picture of the group before we headed off to bed. Whew! What a full day. We toured the Japanese-American Museum first (below) and saw the brutal evidence of internment. Then we met Walter Contraras and visited the Fred Jordan Mission on skid row, seeing two different videos on homelessness and immigration. Then we went out into the community with some Fred Jordan staff to see skid row and hand out food supplies to the homeless, visiting the Rescue Mission and the Midnight Mission. Then we had dinner at a Japanese Restaurant and drove to Rolling Hills Covenant Church where we met with Jorge and Victoria, friends of Walter. Jorge is a US Marshall and Victoria is a recently retired Federal Prison Warden. They shared their stories with us till almost 11 pm. We collapsed around the church on floors and sofas immediately.
Now it's dark. One boy us up and along with Mike Prather and the coffee is on. What will today bring?

Fred Jordan Mission

Just walked skid row for a couple hours.

Japanese Intenment Camps

Here are 6 of the 10 internment camps set up duringWWII for over
100,000 Japanese-Americans. The group, including Garrett Fujiwara, was


MIssion Trip begins today

I began ministry as a youth pastor in suburban Chicago. I did it twice; once for a year before internship in Kansas, and then for another year during my last year in seminary. It was great. I've always been involved in youth ministry; teaching confirmation, going skiing with youth, speaking at camps occasionally and playing softball and, more recently, wiffle-ball. But I have not gone on a missions trip for a long, long time, until today.
This afternoon I will be accompanying four young men, another dad, and Lisa Holmlund on a one-week mission-adventure through California. We will be stopping at strategic locations where Covenant Churches (and others) are doing ministries of compassion, mercy and justice. We leave the church parking lot today at 1:00 pm and head south to Los Angeles. I will be posting very frequently pictures from my iphone and then summaries in the evening if I have access to wifi. This should be fun!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where Is the Cheerfulness?

Have we crossed the threshold into permanent seriousness? Has something from our current culture infected the church with chronic pessimism? After several conversations with friends, both in ministry and laypersons, I note what is missing: cheer. Last week in my sermon I mentioned as an aside that any attempt at being hopeful today is seen as bad form, inappropriate or insensitive. What has replaced it is constant concern and seriousness.
Edwin Friedman, rabbi and therapist, premised that healthy people practice "non-anxious presence" while unhealthy people cannot stop being constantly serious. Friedman talked about the continual seriousness of reptiles, who do just a few things very well: eat, sleep and reproduce....but they do not play like mammals do. Reptiles are serious beasts. They are always alert for danger and ready to eat any food that comes along.
The economy, politics, society, culture our families are all very important and face huge challenges. Cheerful people are not unaware of the challenges (and the seriousness) but they are also aware of hope, resources, God's sovereignty, resurrection power, love, forgiveness, and grace.
Smile at someone today. Tell a really dumb joke. Sing a song out loud. Give someone a hug for no big reason. Eat chocolate!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Poppy & Lupine fix

It happened spontaneously, like it does each year. It was a clear,blue-sky day with a brisk cool wind. Martha came back from teaching about 3:00 pm while I was writing at the beach, doing errands and chores and just hanging out. She said, "Let's go see the lupines and poppies." We hopped in the car and drove across the mountains to Mt Figueroa (sp?) about 60 miles away. We wove back and forth on smaller and smaller roads up into the hills over the Santa Ynez Valley (above). We turn a last corner and were bombarded by too-bright colors spread all over a hillside. Ahhhh!

Office with a view

I needed a place to think and write. My long-suffering book project on "Sacred Space" was turned down by a third publisher, the office at church is filled with Holy Week tasks, and the house has a project list of its own. So I grabbed coffee and headed to the beach. I wedged myself into the back seat facing the ocean and discovered I've got strong wi-fi signals right here! AsI looked out at the ocean, pods of dolphins were surfacing and circling the kelp beds just off shore. What a great office for today and the next writing project!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Serious Sports' Litany

You know the economy is serious when you read the litany of sports' changes in today's New York Times. Here's the list:
NFL cut 169 jobs
NBA will shed 1/10 th of ist staff
ESPN is not filling 200 vacant spots
USOC laid off 54 workers
Nascar laid of hundreds of workers
LPGA is dropping 4 tournaments
PGA tour is losing 3 title sponsors
Detroit Grand Prix race was cancelled
WNBA will cut 2 players on each league team
NY Jets laid off 60 workers
NBA Pacers lost $30 million this season
NBA & NFL teams have not raised ticket prices.
And on it goes. The recession-proof sector is not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blindsided by Widor

I love California and the church I serve. Worship for me is an exciting delight. Each Sunday a new group of musicians lead me into new sounds and new songs. We sing old hymns, sometimes as written and sometimes updated and arranged for the instruments for that day. It is truly fun and worshipful. I am learning and trusting our Director of Worship Arts to take me and the congregation where we need to go.
That being said, I attended a wedding today in downtown Santa Barbara at the 1st Presbyterian Church. It was fun attending as a guest and sitting with Martha. The worship was composed of an organ prelude, a time of worship songs led by another worship leader on the piano, a guitar duet, and more singing led by guitar alone. It was tasteful and good. I did not know the couple real well, but the parents of the groom are good friends and the father of the bride is a local pastor I know and respect.
So, all was going well until the end, as guests were being dismissed by rows and the organist was playing the postlude, a variety of classical numbers. Then he went to Widor's toccata and fugue. Oh my, my eyes filled with tears and my lip began to quiver. The last time I heard that was on the Holtcamp tracker organ played by Cindy Reents at Salem. It is her signature piece, done with precision and power. This organist was good enough to blindside me and reminded me how much I miss the sound of live organ filling a space with colorful sound. Widor does that in a unique way.
I was surprised at how instantaneously the sound of Widor could trigger all the memories of our daughter's successful battle with cancer and the way that music on that Easter balmed my heart. Just when I thought I was beyond surprises...surprise!!

Layoff Survivor's Duty: a call to the church

In the Business Day section of today's New York Times Ron Lieber listed eight categories of help those who are employed can offer to those who are unemployed. As i read the article, there were a number of great ideas for the church to participate in. Here are the seven:
1. Tweets (help them access web-sites, facebook, etc)
2. Desks (offer the use of copiers and printers)
3. Links (connect friends to others)
4. Patronage (hire unemployed friends for part-time work)
5. Playdates (taking care of friends' kids to ease pressure)
6. Meals (simple invitations to home-cooked meals...hospitality)
7. Remodeling (help people sell on ebay old stuff)
8. Financial Aid (gift or loan ?)

Friday, March 20, 2009


Nicodemus had it all. But he was stuck, hungry for something more. So he went to Jesus at night (John 3:1-17). Here Jesus told him that he must be "born again", "born from above."

Sabbath Rest...at last!

Yesterday I experienced Sabbath rest for the first time in too long a time. On retreat at the Serra Center in Malibu, I was convicted that I was preaching something I did not model. I preach and believe in the sabbath, but then work all day Sunday and spend Monday mornings in the office, answering email and the cell phone. Oh I dress super-causally, but my mind in on work, productivity, assignments, contacts, and the multitude of stuff I need to get done. But I do not rest.
Yesterday Martha hi-jacked me and we drove to the Armand Hammer Museum of contemporary art in Los Angeles. On the way down we listened to music by Bon Iver and Andrew Bird. We walked through exhibits of modern LA artists; weird, whimsical, provocative. Then, for lunch, we drove to the Getty Museum for a long lingering lunch on the open-air patio. Then we strolled through some of their exhibits (portaits and Baroque paintings) then we had the cup of cappuccino coffee pictured above.
Even the drive home on the jammed 405 and 101 was fun, because we were together and had no hurry to get anywhere...and the ipod played on. Now I need to repeat sabbath regularly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Do You Make of This?

Did You Know? from Amybeth on Vimeo.

Who's Slice?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Silence on the Beach

Boys show their surfing moves.
Moms play with their daughters in the water.
Girls take each others' pictures.
Couples cuddle and smooch.
Guys show off their tattoos.
Families huddle around their beach gear.
People sleep.
Wanderers amble the shore.
Seagulls prowl for food.
Homeless get warmed up.
Ducks waddle.
White skin reddens.
Ears relax.
Bodies rest.
Minds wander.
Eyes shift out of focus.
Limbs relax.

Day of Silence

Today we are beginning a silent retreat after breakfast. That seems, on the one hand, kind of strange and even counter-productive for a Stewardship Commission that flew in from around the country to discuss stewardship strategies and resources for churches wrestling with diminishing resources. We've talked about the interior and spiritual dimension of stewardship. But today we are all going to practice it. That means, sigh, the iphone goes off till dinner as does email and internet. It will mean the discipline of listening to God without the many interruptions I have become so used to (addicted to?). Shhhhh.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Generosity Killers in the Church

Here are three things I heard that kill a generous spirit in a church:

Perception of ingratitude
Perception of waste
Perception of duplicity

Stewardship Meetings

The Stewardship Commission met all morning with John Wenrich, who guide Church Revitalization. We were challenged to bring the church vitality architecture: healthy and missional, stable, critcal moment, and at risk to the realm of generosity and how they approach matters of money. It was a challenging morning!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who Made That Mess?

I'm sure that's the question all the Temple leaders asked when they came upon the chaos on the Temple mount after Jesus tore through the vendors and crowds like a tornado. Tables upended, feathers and coins scattered, doves escaping and sheep bleating. Vendors were scrambling among the jammed crowds of worshipers to put things back together and I'll bet tempers were pretty high and voices were raised beyond the polite. So, just who made this mess?
Clearly we know the story from John 2:13-25, where Jesus begins his ministry after the Cana miracle with the cleansing of the Temple. The answer is obvious: Jesus did it. Jesus made this mess. Why? For many years I preached about the economic injustice of the sacrificial system and how it preyed on poor foreigners who needed to exchange their local currency for official 1/2 shekels. There were the high priced official sacrificial animals that could be purchased for various sacrifices. It was worse than the price of airport food!
But then I wondered. If I am the living Temple of the Holy Spirit now. Does Jesus come into my precincts and turn over tables? Does he try to clean up my house of all the clutter that accumulates in the life of a middle-aged preacher? I have so many tables I have arranged just so: my books and journals, my routines and preferences, my customs and habits, my stuff and possessions.
How much of Lent needs to be letting Jesus turn over our tables and help us clean house of clutter, junk and distraction? Come Lord Jesus come!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Soup Supper & Diapers

MCC has a weekly Lenten soup supper for about 80 people. It is a great time to eat and hang out. Because of the economy, the local emergency housing agency, Transition House, has had to scale back the number of diapers it can give to its resident families. So tonight's supper "cost" attendees diapers size 4 or 5. I went to get a small pack. Do you know how much diapers are today??? Yikes.

What would Pastor Oloo do?

Pastor Nicholas Oloo (on the left) was the senior leader at the conference in Kisumu Kenya in the Spring of 2007. I taught exegetical preaching to about 500 pastors through the SIM (Sending In Mission). Martha worked with Pastor Oloo in registration and he took her to the orphanage he ran along with his church. There was something regal about Pastor Oloo. His voice was a whispered hoarseness. His eyes were always bright and intense. When a group of pastors were stepping out of line or misbehaving, he would step into their line of sight and just wiggle his finger at them and they settled down immediately. He carried about him a quiet authority.
After the elections last year in Kenya, mobs burned down the orphanage, church and his home. We have been in correspondence with him and sent him some money for new roofing and food. When the fires burned here in Santa Barbara, we received an immediate email from him, asking for directions how his church could pray for our church.
These are disruptive times for churches and pastors in the USA. Some of our old leadership models no longer suit this climate of fear, panic, down-sizing, recession. Maybe that's why I haven't blogged for a while. The need for strong and clear leadership is greater now than any time I can recall in ministry (post 9/11 was also a challenging time). Mega and Super models don't fit these times. New and snappy programs don't scratch the itch. We are hungering for something deeper, something more enduring and lasting, something that sustains brokenness.
I keep thinking about Pastor Oloo with his burned orphanage and church in Kisumu, praying for us here in Santa Barbara. I wonder what he would do? I know what he would do. He would point us to Jesus and his Word. He would call us to love like Jesus loves and care for vulnerable ones like Jesus cared. When I think of Pastor Oloo, I don't think about a cluttered up life, but a life that is clear and focussed on God's eternal values. Thanks Pastor Oloo!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mark 8:34-38

DEny yourself, carry your cross and follow him. Get it?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hygiene Kits for Dinner

CNN did a story about a woman living out of her car here in Santa Barbara. That's the tip of the iceberg. Lots of people are homeless in Santa Barbara and a Christian agency called New Beginnings is seeking to provide "safe parking." Those are places off the street where people can sleep in their cars safely, often with a night guard on duty. MCC partners with New Beginnings. Tonight, as an after-soup project (we have weekly soup suppers during Lent) we put together 50 (25 men, 25 women) hygiene kits that street staff from new Beginnings will hand out to those folk who are spending their nights in their cars. The kits contain soap, wash cloths, socks, toothpaste, deodorant, and a bunch of stuff I forgot. After dinner by the time I got to the table, almost all the kits were packaged up as you can see. These hard times make for good occasions to practice our faith.


Seth Godin did it again! His blog on meetings is right on target. They are about 3 things only: Information, Discussion, or Permission. Confusion, Godin notes, happens when a meeting morphs off on another tangent other than the one called for. For my money that is due to leadership allowing digressing tangents (sometimes good breathers after long periods of discussion). With all the meetings I go to, call for and participate in, I wonder what would happen if I wore a sticker indicating what I was doing at the meeting: informing, discussion or getting permission?

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