Thursday, December 31, 2009

Returning to Basics: Jesus' Baptism

No better way to begin a new year than in worship, at the Table and returning to the font. The text for Sunday is Mark 1:4-11 on Jesus' baptism. When we examine Jesus' baptism, we only naturally return to our own baptisms and what they mean or don't mean.
I don't recall my baptism. It was done while I was an infant at the hands of Dr. F. Burton Nelson in Lafayette, Indiana. As a newly alive believer in college, I asked my dad to baptize me again. Wisely he referred me to Dr. Donald Frisk, professor of Theology at North Park Seminary. He carefully listened to my prodigal story and his eyes moistened as i told of my return to faith. He said that I could be baptized again, and again and again, but it was not really necessary because I was already named and claimed and loved by God. It was just now that I was appreciating that identity more fully as an adult. I opted to not be re-baptized. But over the years when I've had the same conversation with persons who have come alive in faith, some were baptized again, some elected to stand before congregations and renew their baptismal vows.
This Sunday we will offer anyone present the opportunity to come to the font after receiving Holy Communion and renewing their baptism by dipping their hands in the waters. We did that last October in Philippi Greece where the Apostle Paul baptized Lydia, the Jailer and their families. It's a holy moment to return to baptismal waters and our baptismal identity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Irwin Groce at 90!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Luke & Kelly on the beach

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Test Post from Blog

just testing this to see if it posts to facebook


I've always enjoyed Christmas gatherings. As a child in Minnesota to the college drives home from Chicago with grandparents along. When we married, Martha and I alternated between Minnesota and Nebraska with my folks and Sanibel Island Florida with hers. Then, as our kids grew, we stayed home and built our own Christmas traditions. As they grew up and went off to school, we were the magnet they returned to for their school breaks. Now as two are married and one is soon to be married, it's a whole new chapter for us. We're watching them establish their holiday routines, connecting with their families and establishing their own identity as couples. I'm grateful this first Sunday after Christmas for the privilege of having a wife like Martha, three children and now a son-in-law, daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law-to-be! Full nest!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar...good movie...interesting theology!

Commenting about "Avatar" without having seen it, and now reflecting on it after seeing it is two things. It's a really fun movie. We saw the 3-D version. It took a while to adjust to the glasses, but soon the movie carried me into its fantasy/reality landscape. One commentator's idea carried weight as I watched the movie listening for references to "I see you" and things related to seeing and sight.
You have to see the movie with special glasses. The movie is a vision from James Cameron. Diagnostic technology drives much of the movie,attempting to see what's really there. There are numerous theological/liturgical images of worship, singing, and a specially interesting image of prayer (I'll not spoil that here). It suggested a semi-gnostic theology where knowing brings enlightenment and even salvation.
Another interesting interplay was about who was alien and who was natural? It was certainly enjoyable to see it with my two movie-buff sons, who added interesting thoughts and insights on the drive home.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Trivial Pursuits

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Service

From this evening's Christmas Eve Service at Monticeto Covenant Church.

Christmas Eve on the beach

We talked with Liz today and I talked with my brother, envying all the snow hitting the Twin Cities...then we went for a walk to the beach in the sun. Pretty nice!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Summary Video from Greece!

Isaac & Anna, Luke & Kelly all here !

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cranberry Salsa!!!

Avatar: a theology for our day...pantheism

In Ross Douthat's insightful editorial in today's New York Times he unpacks the embedded theology in James Cameron's new movie "Avatar" (which I have not yet seen). God is in all creation, transcendence without immanence and without personal ethical demands. He even gets a quote from noted atheist Richard Dawkins, who calls such pantheism "a sexed up atheism". Is nature actually all that there is of God? I don't think so, but it certainly sells movies.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A question out of a conversation

I was I was listening to some friends talking on the patio today about a tough work situation, when one person made this poignant and puzzling comment: "She things it's her job to correct me." That comment lodged in my brain in two ways: the recognition over the years of those people who take it upon themselves to be the correctors of others, the police of other's behavior and corrector of misperceptions. The other thought was the empowerment we give those to be correctors. This person who made the comment has yielded some authority and even territory to this other person to behave as a corrector. When did that happen?
Who do you allow to correct you? There is a legitimate and valuable need for correctors: for proofreaders of publications and additional calculations of figures. I want my accountant to correct my figures I submit to the IRS. I want strong leaders around me who are not afraid to voice criticism of faulty reasoning or logic.
But you know when it happens when a person assumes the perch of being a permanent corrector, critic and skeptic about all you do. These persons weary the soul because there is no amount of work that is ever good enough. As a senior pastor with a staff, I am aware I can easily morph into the permanent corrector if I'm not careful. I would guess some staff over the years would assign that title to me.
Lord protect us from the permanent correctors and correct us when we become permanent correctors.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goodbye to a Friend

This morning I read with sadness a column I have been following regularly for 15+ years. It's the Saturday column in the New York Times by Peter Steinfels on "Belief". By his the sound of his name, I would guess he is Jewish. But his columns over the years probed every dimension of all major religions, and then some. This last column is worth reading because he distills down some essential observations he makes about healthy faith systems and the forces that mitigate against health.
I'm not sure why his column is being retired, or if he is. But I will miss a rational voice among the screams and shouts. Thank you Peter for columns that blessed this pastor.

Friday, December 18, 2009

This is good mission!

Water is Life in Darfur, Sudan: Webisode 9 from Mocha Club on Vimeo.

Charile Beck, who grew up at Montecito Covenant and recently graduated from SPU with his friend Daniel Skiffington have been commissioned by Mocha Club to visit all their sites in Africa with a video camera, recording the progress of Mocha Club investments. These short, compact, videos are just what the church needs to see/have! Good work Charlie and Daniel!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gospel Action

Jon Lemmond, Pastor for Gospel Action is on the way delivering collected goods to local agencies. Jon set up a "Bring It To The Bin" program where a large basket is on the outside patio every Sunday to collect things like socks, shoes, toiletries, etc. Jon collects an average of two shopping bags of items each week from MCC members. In addition (if you can see the purple cards to the right in the bag) the MCC Children's Ministry kids wrote Christmas Cards for care-givers that he is also delivering. Good news in practical small steps, linking members to real ministries.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So Cold ....make a cloud

Interesting Video; what do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Resomation: the rest of the story

Below is copied from the Sunday December 13, 2009 New York Times magazine section:
The 9th Annual Year in Ideas, which included this entry on updates in cremation technology:

The cremation rate has been on a brisk rise in the United States, in part because cremation is cheaper than burial and saves land. But powering a crematorium requires an enormous amount of gas and also sends carbon dioxide and other pollutants skyward. Enter resomation, an alternative to cremation for the eco-conscious cadaver.SANDY SULLIVAN
ILLUSTRATION BY CATH RILEYResomation is a process that liquefies rather than burns body tissues. It uses about a sixth of the energy of cremation and has a much smaller carbon footprint, according to Sandy Sullivan, the managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a resomation machine. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has been using a similar system since 2006 to dispose of donated bodies, but this year the first commercial Resomator is being installed at a funeral home in Florida, one of three states where the process is legal.

Resomation (a neologism meant to suggest rebirth) was first proposed for use in Europe as a method of disposing of cows infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The corpse is placed in a pressurized chamber. The vessel is then filled with water and potassium hydroxide, creating a highly alkaline solution, and heated to 330 degrees. After about three hours, all that's left are a soft, white calcium phosphate from bone and teeth and a light brown primordial soup of amino acids and peptides. Bodies buried underground decompose in the same way, albeit over many years and aided by microorganisms.
Unlike cremation, resomation doesn't vaporize the toxic mercury of dental fillings and doesn't char joint implants, leaving them clean, shiny and potentially recyclable. The bone and tooth material can be ground into a fine ash, as with traditional cremains. The brown liquid, because it's sterile, can go down the drain. "There's no genetic material in it at all; it's just basic organic materials," Sullivan assures. "You might get some people who say they want the fluid as well, but at the end of the day, it's best to send it to the water treatment plant so it ends up back on the land, as nature intended it to."

Cremation Alternative: resomation

There is a new, carbon-friendly option for the disposition of human remains. Until now the two options are full-body burial and cremation. But now there is a new alternative called resomation. Take a look. What do you think? Any biblical issues here?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Myth-busters: deficient older employees

In the magazine section of December 13th New York Times it is devoted to ideas, fascinating ideas! One that caught my eye came out of UCSB researcher Dr. Gary Charness on the high value of both older employees and the improved productivity of intergenerational working groups. It looks like the model of the non-age-segmented church has some value!

Strength Building

Seth Godin has a new ebook filled with pithy quotes from an assembly of wise friends. Below is one that caught my attention:

Forget about working on your weaknesses —> Focus on
supporting your strengths.
I worked on my weaknesses for 40 years to little avail.
Still “needs improvement,” as they say. Why? Easy. We
hate doing things we’re not good at, so we avoid them.
No practice makes perfect hard to attain.
But my strengths – ah, I love my strengths. I’ll work on
them till the purple cows come home. When we love
what we do, we do more and more, and pretty soon
we’re pretty good at it.
The beautiful thing about being on a team is that,
believe it or not, lots of people love doing the things
you hate. And hate doing the things you love. So quit
diligently developing your weaknesses. Instead, partner
with someone very UNlike you, share the work and
share the wealth and everyone’s happy.
Relatedly, women are rather UNlike men and often
approach problems and opportunities with a different
outlook. Yet books and coaches oen encourage us to
adopt male strengths and, lacking understanding, to
relinquish our own. The irony is, studies show that
more women in leadership translates unequivocally into
better business results.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for both men and women
to appreciate each other’s strengths so we all work on
what comes naturally?
Marti Barletta, speaker, consultant and author of Marketing to
Women and PrimeTime Women; is currently working on her
next book, Attracting Women: Marketing Your Company to the
21st Century’s Best Candidates

I preached about old Simeon in the Temple, how he did a couple things really well. He stayed in his strengths. Yet I too often am aware of weaknesses around me and get distracted to go where I'm not strong and spend disproportional energy there, neglecting the "sweet spots" that fuel good ministry.
How do others of you out there in ministry stay in the sweet spots when other areas of church life beckon for your presence and leadership?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Staff Christmas Party

Worship Team full of strings

Cello, two violins & flute accompany vocalists, guitar & piano. Pretty

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gaudete Sunday

I can't think about Gaudete Sunday without thinking about Helen Locke. Helen was the organist at the first church I served in Lafayette Indiana. She was a force to be reckoned with. It did not hurt that I was a baby in that church during my dad's first years in ministry. Helen and I had some deep history. Her brother-in-law was my dad's best friend and she reluctantly loved me. Helen was a severe person who lived with her brother, a troubled soul. Helen's territory was all things musical and sanctuary details.
At my first Advent season, Helen decorated the communion table with an Advent wreath that was all wrong! It had three purple candles and one pink candle with the center white Christ candle. The pink candle was all wrong (by wrong I meant it was not the way my family and the church in St. Paul set up advent wreaths: four purple candles). We went round and round about it. Helen would not budge. But I was the "Pastor" and I did not want a sentimental pink candle that smacked more of Hallmark cards than good liturgy.
So, on the Saturday before the third Sunday in Advent, I went to the sanctuary and allowed the pink candle to fall to the floor and break in half. I then replaced it with a purple candle and waited for Sunday. Of course Helen was apoplectic! "What happened to the pink candle?" she asked (more like yelled). "It broke" I said honestly (but not morally). That locked us into a battle that last six months, until doing seminary research I realized Helen was right and I was wrong. The third Sunday in Advent was named Gaudete (Latin for "joy") to break the long Advent fast and somberness. It was an insertion of grace into law and tedium.
I had to confess my findings to Helen that June after my research. I told her about the "dropped" candle and she graciously forgave me and from that time on there was a pink candle in the wreath (at church). God bless Helen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Christmas Pageants

I am a child of the church. Except for those years I was out in the wilderness rebelling, I have spent every Christmas in and around the church. I have been a participant in almost every imaginable kind of Christmas pageant as both child and participant, young adult and musician (I played the violin), and then as youth pastor and pastor now for 29 years. They have been scripted, costumed, orchestrated, done with sets, outside, on stages, both serious and funny. They have been part of Sunday worship, during SS, after an all-church meal, in the afternoon, Sunday nights and midweek. The only missing ingredient is the presence of various animals (I'm still waiting!).
Last Sunday night we returned from a musical feast in St. Paul at Northwestern College's Christmas concert, we arrived at 7:00 for the MCC "Christmas in the Field" (though it was inside the sanctuary this year). The program was elegantly simple: Christmas carols with minimal narration. The 50-60 of us enjoyed the kids in front and we all sang together they way churches should sing. One Westmont student who came down to the service said: "My heart really needed this!"


Martha's mother's printing press arrived here in the Fall. This week I watched as Martha made it her own. She ordered new felts and then spent hours and hours calibrating the pressure of the rollers to just where she wanted them. Little fanfare, lots of sweat as she rolled out print after print until the pressure settings were where she wanted them.

So cold that....

Yes, I read it this morning on my brother's facebook. It was so cold in Minnesota squirrels froze in the trees, fell to sidewalks and shattered. Read about it in The Minneapolis Star Tribune!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marriage Strategy: Returns Policy

How many couples (or individuals) do you know who have stuff in their basements or closets that doesn't work, is the wrong size or is a duplicate? I know too many. And when I ask about returning them to the store, I get a long pause, like the silence of a mine field. Who returns items?
A suggestion I have for couples right now, especially those in their earlier years of marriage is to do it together. Returning an item is not an embarrassment, it does not mean you are wrong, will look stupid, or that people will yell at you for making a mistake. Returning products is not necessarily the job of the wife....or the husband. It belongs to both. To bail on taking responsibility to return items is financially foolish. Good items could be used or turned into cash if....a couple is willing to return them. So, if you read this and know some couples early in the marriage, ask them how they will do the returning this year?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Serious Surf Monday in Hawaii

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Good Weekend Over

This morning we woke up at 5:00 am to an outside air temp of 13 degrees! We got to the airport, coffee'd up and rode on a 1/2 filled plane to San Francisco and on home to Santa Barbara. The time spent in Minnesota was wonderful, fast and missing connecting too many people we both love. Martha and Jeanne worked with Liz on her house to spruce it up for Christmas, we visited the MIA and Walker Museums, had two good visits with my mom, had a lingering brunch with some friends, and chased back and forth. My regret was that I did not bet the time to visit with so many good friends. The weekend was filled with Martha, Liz and my mom.
What was most fun was watching Martha, Liz and Jeanne decorate, hang art and rearrange Liz and Jeff's living room and dining room. There is something almost scary when three energetic women go to work on decorating. I found that my best job was to walk grand-dog #2!!

Saturday, December 05, 2009


We met friends for brunch today at a great little restaurant in St. Paul called Muffalettas. We were there for brunch, but they had a wine list on the back. As I browsed the wine list, I came across a Chateau Neuf du Pape wine with the label "Barroche" It couldn't be the same could it? We asked to see a bottle (unopened) and lo and behold it was the wine that our French "son" Julien Barrott produces on his small domaine in Chateau Neuf du Pape. To think that we saw this wine listed first in St. Paul was a real treat for us.

Creative Christmas Ideas

Jon Lemmond, Pastor for Gospel Action has put together a list of very creative ideas for Christmas on his blog site strepho. Check it out!

Visiting my mom

Friday my brother Tim and I were able to overlap making a visit to my mom at Covenant Village in Golden Valley MN. It was brief, sweet & tender.

A Minnesota Saturday moring

Martha and Jeanne are shopping before brunch, so I escaped to a nearby Dunn Brothers for some coffee, reading and reflecting. The smells of fresh roasting coffee permeate the air. It's in St. Anthony Park, so there are a number of Luther Seminary students, known by their earnest seriousness and big texts. Couples of both genders are there with their overly bundled children. Clothes are stacked, strewn, and spread on counters and tables and the floor. I am reminded how much clothing a person needs to keep track of in the cold. While it's 20 degrees outside (up from yesterday's 18), the streets are full of foot traffic. The paths are filled with joggers, dog-walkers, and people with baby strollers padded with down (I think there are babies inside all that insulation). Living indoors, means everything is louder than I've become used to. Conversations compete within closed spaces and I hear burst of conversations over each other.
I know this place. I've successfully lived through midwestern winters all my life. I appreciate the hardy spirit and all the rosy cheeks. Driving through flurries is still fun. Though I'm looking forward to a long beach walk this coming Monday and maybe even a swim!

Grand-dog #2: "Nola"

We have another grand-dog: "Nola". Jeff and Liz got her from a shelter. I got to take her for a cold walk this morning through south Minneapolis. Liz remarked how amazed she was that "Nola" responded to me so quickly and so well. Of course, I'm her grand-owner! Dogs get that.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas at Northwestern

Tonight Martha was honored at the Christmas at Northwestern Christmas concert. Martha's art was hung in the lobby and projected on the wall; all 15 years of them. The concert...oh my! The intonation and balance was superb. They did a Moses Hogan number on "This Little Light of Mine" that brought tears to my eyes. The photo above is of Timothy Sawyer, the music director and Dr. Alan Cureton, the president of Northwestern College. It's really fun being the spouse of a well-known and loved artist.

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