Monday, August 31, 2009

Pray for LA

The advantage of living just up the coast from LA is that we get the news stream from LA. So I spent too much of the afternoon google mapping where the fires are ravaging the hills around the LA basin. The disadvantage of having gone through one fire close up is that I know the chaos this creates. The constant whump, whump, whump of helicopter blades all through the night and then, if you are evacuated, the total uncertainty whether or not your house and belongings have survived. Pray for the brave men and women out on the fire lines and up in the air making hazardous drops even at night.

13 buoys!

The photo above is of the beach where I have been swimming all summer. The length of beach is marked by 13 buoys that are anchored several hundred (I'm guessing) yards off shore. My routine each time at the beach is to swim out to one of the buoys and, if I'm feeling up for it and have the time, swim horizontally to another buoy, and even another buoy.
Mid summer I thought it would be a cool goal to swim all 13 buoys sometime. Today was the day. I swam out to the one on the far right and headed left (West), figuring I'd cave in around number 6 or 8. But I just kept swimming till I ran into a bed of kelp between number 12 and 13. It's fun hitting a goal!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Porch for Mother & Son

Can you guess which chair is mom's and which is son's?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2 gates 2 trees 2 foundations

I'm concluding the summer preaching series: "Summer on the Mount: Jesus tells it like it is" with Matthew 7:13-29. In this test Jesus sets out three sets of 2's: gates, trees, and foundations. The altar-piece graphically portrays 2 trees: a fruit-bearing blood lime tree and a pulled-up, dried-out thistle bush. Thistles grow with no work and untended. Limes take continual work; watering, pruning and fertilizing. But the fruit is worth it.

Westmont Church Fair

Friday, August 28, 2009

Untrained Art & Faith

Martha and I just returned from a great get-away to the town of Cambria, California. One of the features of the town was a number of art galleries. Going to an art gallery with Martha is going food shopping with Emeril Lugassi...it's intense. One of the features that caught Martha's attention was how many artists marketed themselves as "untrained" as if that were a distinctive advantage over training. Now I must admit that Martha teaches printmaking at Westmont College, so she is a bit biased towards training and its value.
But I've noticed over the years that there are a number of areas that seem to pride themselves in not having formal training but doing it intuitively: art, music, writing, and pastoral leadership. Maybe there is a healthy reaction against the restrictions, lack of creativity and vitality, the old-boy network, the interest in perpetuating the status quo that yields things like tenure professors and ordained clergy and unionized teachers. I'm reading Chuck Smith's powerful biography of the "Calvary Chapel" movement out here in California. It tells the stories of their leaders; most of who come out of powerful conversions and no seminary training.
The alternative to formal training seems to be the informal networks and gatherings of mentors, retreats, seminars where practitioners share best practices and new discoveries. So we have seen the emergence of the quasi-seminaries of the Willow Creek Association, the Saddleback network, and the National Pastors' Conferences.
Question: does training spoil intuitive creativity? Does learning Greek and Hebrew take away the passion for saving the lost? Does learning color theory and principles of design curtail vitality?
I guess there are some areas where we still value training: surgeons, pilots, electricians, accountants. What does it say?

Away at San Simeon

We are heading for breakfast soon and then meandering our way back to Santa Barbara, via a couple of garden shops. What a great break it was for us to be away, out of cell phone coverage with no schedule but to walk, read, nap, swim and eat really, really well. We both talked about what 34 years of marriage means, has done to us and decided to re-up for another 34! (It took some persuading on my part but Martha finally caved in!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Morro Bay rock

34th anniversary

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fires out of Camaria

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A new summer style

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Clothing and Church

I love living where I do. I am loving living in California and discovering all the new aspects of West Coast culture. I've never had more fun in my life. But I do get confused once in a while. We were invited to visit a church (before we came to Santa Barbara) and were told to not dress Midwestern, but casual. For me that meant khaki pants and an open-at-the collar buttoned down long sleeve shirt. Martha, ever the proper Southern lady wore a dress.
At church, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Our friends were in jeans and cargo pants, flip-flops and sandal. It was really casual. Good worship, but casual dress. We were invited to go out for dinner with a group that night. So we went back to the hotel to get it "right" this time. I put on jeans and a nice, dark t-shirt and Martha wore pants and a pullover. At the restaurant, the guys were in slacks and blazers and the women were all in formal dresses! What did I miss? Why was church less formal than dinner? I did not get the memo.
A good article in Christianity Today by a woman, Tracey Bianchi, addresses this whole realm of dressing for worship in today's culture. I certainly want our church to welcome anyone as they are. But what are your thoughts about how pastors and leaders should dress? What is distracting? What's just cultural and regional (I came from a culture where robes were normal) and what is being biblically sensitive?

New Level of HOT!

Isaac gave unique gifts at his groom's dinner: a variety of hot sauces above and beyond Tabsco. What he gave Martha and me were two: "Slap Your Mamma" and "Inferno". Today I tried just a little bit of "Inferno" on a pork tenderloin sandwich. At first it tasted hot, but good. Then, as the meal wore on, my mouth ignited, my face grew redder and my nose began to run. I drank water, ate chips, a glass of mild and then lemon sorbet. It took about two hours for my mouth to return to feeling normal. Wow, that was hot! Thanks Isaac!

"Music Man" at Solvang

We celebrated an annual event at MCC last night; a picnic in the park and an outdoor theater experience with about 60 other members and friends of MCC. It's the brainchild of Everett Stevens, who purchases this block of tickets on his own and we buy them back from him.
It was especially great to see a well-known musical that contains so many songs that float in the air of our culture. And it was also fun to see the humor of Iowa, home of River City!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ask, Seek, Knock

The text for Sunday is Matthew 7:7-11 where Jesus instructs (commands?) us to ask, seek and knock. But the grammar is intriguing: present imperative: keep on asking, continue seeking, don't stop knocking. It's a call to long-haul perseverance and persistence against ambiguity, confusion and resistance.
This is really a word to those well along in the journey of discipleship. To those of us who have become used to certain things and given up on others, who have become less open to change and settled for stability and the status quo. So the question I will be asking in worship tomorrow is: where are you still asking, still seeking and still knocking?

Where Do You Park?

At a hotel in town, I watched a staff member walking from the staff parking lot to the hotel. It was the farthest lot from the hotel. The best spots; close and up front were reserved for guest. The staff parked at a distance. At a doctor's office this week, the exact opposite happened; the close and covered spots were signed for "Doctors Only" and patients parked farther away or on the street. The two businesses sent clear messages about who is important.
What about the church? Where do pastors, staff and leaders park and where do guest, or more importantly, late-comers park? In both Muskegon and New Brighton I had the pastor's parking signs pulled out. I tried to encourage staff and leaders to park at the back of the lot and walk, leaving the best spots up front for visitors and elderly. This idea was not always met with joy. People like finding great spots; convenient and close up.
Do our parking habits reflect spirituality or servanthood? Where do you park? Where will you park tomorrow?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lutheran Vote

When Unitarians, United Church of Christ, Methodists and Episcopalians wade into the debate about ordaining gay clergy, it is a discussion removed from me. They are not part of my historic heritage, as the Lutheran church is. The vote by the ELCA to ordain homosexual clergy in committed relationships brings the issue closer to home. The Lutheran church is our historic heritage.
The question that was raised to me was; will this make an impact on the Covenant Church? I don't think so. I think our sense of biblical theology outweighs the cultural climate of toleration. The vote should not affect the way I relate to friends who are gay or lesbian. I don't think Jesus gives us any option but to act lovingly towards those with whom we have disagreements.

Off the Ark

Martha's creativity cannot quit. During Noah's week, she had a craft project ready for each day on the teaching theme of the day. But some kids finish their work early, so she had a table covered with paper and crayons available for kids to draw on. She asked the kids to draw animals that would have come off of Noah's Ark.
Each day Martha would select the animals she liked the most and transfered them to a 3'X4' piece of plywood primed with white paint.

Near the end of the week, she recruited older kids and some artistic adults to help her paint in the colors for a new Noah's mural!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Follow the Ring

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Watch this with the sound UP

Church: safe place or not?

My friend Kenton Anderson just wrote a great blog on the need for the church to be a "safe place" for the members and those who participate. We need to go back to the notion of safety again and again, because too often what we say and how people experience us is too far apart.

Reclaiming Land

Martha has been busy in the garden culling overgrown plants. In the midwest, the looming killing frost does most of that for gardeners. Fall comes, the cold kills back gardens and the outlines and dimensions of a garden are rediscovered. Not so in a climate like California, where gardens grow all year long and plants overgrow boundaries and get long in the teeth. So Martha, never one who is shy with clippers, hacked and cut away to reclaim her land.
That's been a metaphor for me in this season of life, learning to clip back areas of my life that have overgrown. Last week (the Noah's week of 1/2 kids' camp) I also said yes to two weddings, preaching on Sunday, a jail service Sunday night and a funeral Monday morning. Ooops! I let things overgrow. All these were good things. But I neglected to borders of my life at the cost of my prayer and devotional time with God.
When do you realize your borders have been overgrown? What areas of your life are easiest to neglect? What steps are you taking this late summer/fall to reclaim spiritual land that has grown weedy? How is your involvement in the local church a help or a hindrance? What new disciplines are you considering adding to or substituting to your routine? What are some best practices that you have discovered?
Now I'd better get clipping!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Naked Lady at Church!

There she was...the first naked lady of the fall. These are some weirdly beautiful flowers that are a tall smooth stem (hence, I'm guessing the term "naked") and bright pink flower. They come over night in hard and nasty soil. Soon our prayer garden area will be filled with them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Praise of Volunteers!

Noah's 1/2 Day Camp ended last night in singing, a skit, unveiling a mural, announcing a $1,000 raised toward a camp in Egypt, a grand ice cream social on the patio and clean-up. It was not a week without its challenges and problems. No camp of this size would be problem free. But what I noticed at the end of the week was the faithful and positive attitude of volunteers (some of whom do not even attend MCC) who gave up an entire week to come and pour themselves into the lives of children and students.
That's where the real health is in a church! I'm a paid staff person and appreciate beyond words that staff that support ministries of MCC. But at the end of the day, it's really not about us, but about those who give themselves freely to serve Jesus in all sorts of ways and capacities; from getting up early and driving across town to pick up kids who have no transportation available to those who bake cookies, play instruments twice a day in a mini-concert.
In the quite (really, really quiet) of this morning at church, I am praying that I am a kind of pastor who encourages volunteers and not discourages them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Honoring Christian Camping

My wife grew up in a Christian Bible Camp, Camp Hanover, outside of Richmond Virginia. Her father, John Ensign, founded the camp on 680 acres of land and retired from there years ago. Our son Luke worked at Covenant Pines in Minnesota a number of summers.
I, however, have distanced myself from the Bible Camp world over the last years for no apparent reason. It's there. I support them and encourage them. But I've forgotten the energy they create, demand and consume. This past week has been a sobering reminder about how much energy and heart it takes to run and staff a camp. Ours is only a 1/2 day camp. But it begins early with the set ups, the arrival of teachers, musicians, craftspeople, the athletic team, and the kitchen staff. It goes like a freight train till noon, and then there is the daily wind-up, clean-up, set-up for the next day that often trickles well into the afternoon.
As the senior pastor and camp photographer, I've been witness to every aspect of the operation of Noah's 1/2 day camp, and I'm really impressed, and exhausted. And the sad thing is that I have not worked nearly as hard as any of the other workers! And...our camp is only a 1/2 day and lasts one week.
So this morning, hats off to all you camp leaders; in churches hosting VBS camps like ours, in the established camps around the country who are now winding up a full summer, of the big event camps like CHIC that happen every three years. Your work matters and counts. Lives are touched. Little eyes and hearts observe you and hear the good news of Jesus.
Now go to the beach and get some rest!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, another fire!

Not close, but close enough to color the sky and rain a film of ashes on everything. the LaBrea fire is now consumed 25,000 acres (I'm sure more by the time you read this). Come on! Enough with the fires. Where's the rain?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

VBS: lab for gender studies

I wander the campus during Noah's with my camera and cup of coffee. What I noticed this morning is the distinct gender behavior between the little boys and little girls. The boys are in almost constant motion and contact; crashing into each other and falling down, laughing and banging into each other again. The girls, while active, love to huddle and hear a story

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lessons in Letting Go

Today MCC was invaded by 130 high-energy elementary students for the annual Noah's Half-Day Camp. It's an exercise in delegation, trust and creativity. My job was to wander, float and schmooze! It enables me to drop in on a class with my camera, watch, listen and take some pictures (today over 300!). What I observed was how uniquely each class was set up and run, from the preschool child-care for teachers' children, to the snacks, missions, music, skit, and all the different age levels.
Noah's is a long-standing tradition at MCC. And with traditions comes the momentum to "do it the same way we have always done it." There is something heartwarming in that; the gathering in the gym, snacks on the patio, the rocking music, wild games, crafts and snacks. But there is also the need to upgrade, update and innovate. I saw numerous examples of it in the music, technology, crafts and mission (a youth sports camp outside of Cairo!).
But the best way to dampen enthusiasm is to assign a person to a leadership area, and then tie their hands with the way its always been done (or the way I think it should be done from my wise vantage point). I notice that among the musicians. They really thrive on having the freedom to choose their own songs, set their own volume and tempo and watch the kids take off! This year the snack people asked for non-nut snacks because more and more children have nut allergies. It is a bit of a change, but a good changes for the health of all the campers.
As I watched this great organization take off today, I reflected on my own style of leadership. I often ask for others to help me, to take on a leadership role, but then I want to tell them how it should be done and I have notices how the light dims in their eyes. Do I really trust others to do a good job differently from the way its been done in the past and, more importantly, the way I have or would do it? This will be a good lab-experience for me this week to watch others lead in new and creative ways. May I learn the lessons in leadership God wants to teach me.

Noah's Snake-Dance Closing

It's really something to see 130+ kids and adults snake dancing through the gym at the close of the first day. I need a nap and I just watched!

Noah's Opening!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Mixed Message? Design Flaw?

I followed a car tonight that had a scrolling license plate like the one above. It said scrolling: "PLEASE BACK OF....42,000 DEATHS DUE TO TAILGATING" The problem was that I had to tail-gate to see the dumb sign!!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

On Worry

Sunday continues the sermon series on "The Sermon on the Mount" looking at Matthew 6:25-34 and worry. Dissecting worry is no easy task. With good help from a friend who is a psychologist, I had a tutorial in differentiating between fear, anxiety and worry. Fear is focussed. Anxiety is more ambiguous. Worry is cognitive.
But Jesus tells us to look twice (at the birds and at the flowers) and seek once (the Kingdom of God and his righteousness). Jeanne and Martha combined the birds and the flowers with the opulent arrangement that includes the weaving of nesting branches.

Musical Glasses!

Luke introduced me to this amazing musician. Enjoy!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Paddle-Out: California/surfing Funeral

The dad of a young man who atends MCC died last week at the premature age of 59. Above all things, he was known as a surfer who made a daily trek to this well known surfing beach called Rincon. So a service was held for him at the park above the beach. What I noticed first arriving at the park was the parking lot of surf-boards stacked against a wall.

A local pastor, Britt Merrick, led a worship band and prayed eloquently for his community. It was an inspiring witness to incarnational ministry; genuine to those who gathered, but clearly directed at honoring Christ and giving witness to the message of salvation. Then, after a long period of testimonies and witnesses, surfers were invited to grab their boards and head to the beach for the paddle-out.

You can see the number of surfers who stood in front of their boards like and honor guard for one of their fallen ones. Flowers were handed out to the surfers (who tucked them into the necks of their wetsuits). And slowly they walked down the beach and out into the waves.

The dilemma of using my iphone camera is that it does not do long-distance pics well, but the dark spot in the center is the gathered community of surfers in a circle holding hands. I'm not sure what was said, but soon every surfer began splashing into the center of the circle. It was as liturgically appropriate as it could be from my vantage point. What a privilege!
Peace to the memory of Dean Jensen

Friday Morning Delight

The New York Times newspaper has been a steady part of my reading diet for 17 years now. It seems odd that I read an East Coast newspaper now that I'm living on the far-West Coast. But one of the benefits of reading through a real paper newspaper like the NYT's on Friday morning is to read its reviews of the newest movies being released today. The reviews themselves are not always that great (or maybe it's just that I'm not a big movie-goer). What is totally delightful, and I'm sure are in-house jokes, are the italicized summaries of each movie at the bottom of the article. It's some of the best and most creative writing in the whole paper.
Today for example: "Paper Heart" (Adult language and infantile behavior)
"Cold Souls" (Be warned: the film encourages thinking)
"Perfect Getaway" (Gun, kinife, hatchet, rock, bow-and-arrow, fist-and-foot violence)
"Julie and Julia" (It has mild profanity, and the indulgence- in exquisite moderation- of a few choice vices)
This is Twitter writing before Twitter.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Man vs Food????

This will be a new show tomorrow night on the Travel Channel?? Fighting food? Today? Come on.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Swimming with Dolphins: a drive-by

One of my new routines this year is afternoon swimming at Butterfly beach. A community of beach people has included me (along with Martha and my family). I set up my beach chair, read magazines till I'm warm enough and then wade into the water for a good, long swim out to the buoys.
But mid afternoon almost each day a pod of dolphins swims by; either going east toward Carpinteria or west toward Santa Barbara. Usually they are too far out to swim to. But today, one of the guys spotted some dolphins swimming west to east, heading our way. One of the women immediately grabbed her fins and said "Let's go say HI". I joined her and we swam vigorously out beyond the buoys next to the kelp beds and waited. She began to sing to them, welcoming them to her. Before I knew it, three dolphins cruised by us, not more that 10 yards away. They did not stop as she hoped they would, but swam closer to me than ever before. Needless to say, I'm still kind of high on endorphins from being that close to these magnificent animals!
When we got back to the beach, they asked how close we got to them. She said, "It was just a drive-by."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Surprise Visit: Anna & Isaac

The call came Saturday afternoon while we were running errands: "We're in Visalia and were wondering if we could drive down and spend the night with you and then go to church Sunday?" It was Isaac and Anna. We had a late dinner for them and hung around and talked till late. The best part was taking a swim with Isaac in the afternoon before they left.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Teen Suicide: TH1RTEEN R3ASONS

It was an NPR interview with author Jay Asher on his 2007 book "Thirteen Reasons" that captivated my attention. It is a novel about a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes with thirteen reasons why she decided to take her life. It was one of the most painful books I was compelled to read. While clearly secular and containing tough language, it tells the story of violation and the loss of safety in both place and persons who she tried to trust.
How many youth pastors out there have read this? I'd really like to hear how you processed this in your ministry and within your youth group? It did help to have the beach around me to read this book!

How You See is What You Get: Matthew 6:22-23

My grandfather was a Soo Line engineer. He told stories about his long night runs through the woods of Upper Michigan and how the headlight of the big engine pierced the darkness, illuminating standing deer or sometimes cows. On the 101 from Santa Barbara to Ventura, the highways parallels the train tracks and sometimes we overtake a freight or Amtrak. At night their large oscillating light sweeps ahead of them, turning dark into night.
"The eye is the lamp of the body." Jesus said. What kind of headlight do you have? How far does it shine? How much light does it bring to you? How much light do you bring to others?

When not to blog

My son commented that I have not been posting as often as in the Winter and Spring. Last night I sat and reflected on when not to blog. My blog postings are, chiefly, idea-based and discussion-starters. When there is an interesting article or book that warrants discussion, I blog. When there is a newsworthy event that bears on church life and the faith community, I blog. When there is something happening in the culture that is intriguing, I blog.
But here are some of the areas off-limits for me:
1. church members in crisis
2. church staff issues that need discussion and resolution in-house
3. family matters
4. most things political
5. church conflicts
6. any confidentiality
7. something that makes me uneasy
The purpose for my blog is to add to the conversation already happening in churches among believers. I'm not sure how many non-believers read this. I think it's mainly those of us who are committed to life in the local body. The health and vitality of local churches is one of my highest concerns. Blogs that rip on the local church are not helpful. And the local church is fragile. So any blog I write that could plant a seed of suspicion or distrust is also not helpful (and I think I've done that in the past from some emails that came later). Blogs that poke at other churches are not helpful (I'm not the pastor of any other church but this one and don't know the stories behind the stories).
I've heard from a number of my pastor-friends this summer and it's tough going for many of them. So I'm doing a bit more praying and reading, reflecting and sitting.

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