Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
My Monday morning routine is to sample a lot of web sites of pastors and church leaders, reading their reflections and insights about Worship, Church and Culture. Some are tame and predictable and others a dangerously bold. A young pastor and pastor's son named Matt writes a blog from Kansas City, painfully describing the death of the church his dad planted and he helped lead. Clearly there is hurt, but there is also insight into 3 of 10 factors he attributed to the death of his church.
Because of my years in ministry with many different church staffs I've been privileged to work with, I would never write so harshly (or clearly) because the wrong person would apply it to him/herself and the right person would not be reading my blog anyway. What particularly struck a chord in me reading Matt's blog was his clarity about musicians who are prima donnas versus those who love people. That observation would apply to pastors as well; those who get impressed with their own press releases and pulpiteering ability and those who just love folk.
The other 2 (or 3) church killers were the building itself and the amount of energy buildings consume and new recruits who come in with high expectations and demands. I'd like to talk with Matt more about the pros and cons of buildings (given the fact that all 29 years of my ministry has been building-based). I know they take work and money, but I also know the advantages of place and stewardship of good use in a neighborhood. And new recruits (interesting word) begs the question of the welcoming in process. How much time did the pastor take visiting with new members and talking about that church's uniqueness and defining beliefs? I've lost a lot of "recruits" over the years in Inquirers' Classes where they and I learned that this was not the church for them and their agendas.
I look forward to Matt's next posting as he shares about more "church killers" but with a little apprehension.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
7 Fasts for Today
In addition to the traditional fast of food, consider the following 7 fasts to help you pay closer attention to God:
1. Drive with the radio off
2. Turn your cell phone off for 24 hours
3. Stay off Internet and Email for 24 hours
4. Devote one day to NO complaints, criticism or sarcasm
5. Spend one day smiling at every person you encounter
6. During your normal TV news routine, read the Psalms for 30 minutes instead
7. Go sit outside somewhere without a book, newspaper, magazine or ipod and pay attention for 60 minutes
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Fasting for Today?
Matthew 6:16-18 is one of my least preached on texts; where Jesus calls us to fast differently. I fast differently. I hardly ever fast! So it was work to explore what fasting means beyond not eating. Fasting gets my attention off me and on to God. Food is very distracting. When I asked some friends about what makes them NOT eat, the answer came whispered back "Hardly anything". We are a food obsessed culture in a hungry world. We munch our way through the day, grabbing little bites of this and that till we head off to bed. No wonder we battle obesity. When do we stop?
In the sermon tomorrow I'm going to suggest 7 practices that could be a modern-day fast of that which distracts us from God.
My friend Murriel nailed me this morning with an article written by Garrison Keilor about Lutherans. While it's funny, it's also true. Read it and weep!
Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It's a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We're too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment.
I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.
I do believe this: These Lutherans are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you're dying, they'll comfort you. If you're lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you're hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!
The following list was compiled by a 20th century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:
1. Lutherans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
2. Lutherans like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.
4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.
5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.
6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their children's choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.
7. Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.
8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament..
9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LC-MS groom make for a mixed marriage. (For those of you who are not Lutherans, ELCA is Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and LC-MS is Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, two different divisions of the same Protestant religion.. And when and where I grew up in Minnesota , intermarriage between the two was about as popular as Lutherans and Catholics marrying.)
10.. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.
11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.
12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keillor stories are totally factual.
13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the seasonand think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole add a little too much color.
14. Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.
And finally, you know you're a Lutheran when:
*It's 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service;
*You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can;
*Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee;
*The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight;
*When you watch a 'Star Wars' movie and they say, 'May the Force be with you', you respond, 'and also with you';
*And lastly, it takes 15 minutes to say, 'Good-bye'.
May you wake each day with His blessings, Sleep each night in His keeping, And always walk in His tender care.
Swimming Through Seaweed
The water temperature is rising (65 yesterday) making it ideal for swimming. If I can work it out today between wedding rehearsals and a wedding itself, I'll try to slip down to Buttterfly Beach for a quick, 20 minute swim. Ocean swimming takes a bit of getting used to: getting in to initially chilly water, getting splashed by waves, swimming through choppy waves to the buoys, and just the bigness of the ocean can get my imagination running in overdrive. But it's all worth it when I float on my back and look up at the mountains, the sky and the sea birds flying overhead.
What I'm working on now is sea weed! Yuk! I have never liked swimming into or through sea weed. I don't like the rough feel of sea weeds on my skin. When I hit some and I kick furiously, they entangle themselves around my feet and legs and I get panicky. So my approach up until this summer has been to swim around sea weeds (which in our area are broken off ropes of kelp floating like islands). That is until I began swimming with my beach friends (another story). These men and women not only swim through kelp, they swim into and on top of kelp beds and hang out in the weeds. The water (they tell me) is much warmer floating on top of a kelp forest. So while I've not made it to swimming into the kelp beds, I'm learning to swim through the kelp rope in my swimming path.
What's working is to stay calm and not kick. If I swim just with my arms, and let my legs dangle behind me, not wraps around me. I slip through the weeds and into open water easily. But it takes concerted effort to NOT kick but relax.
I'm also learning to swim through the weeds in my life these days...and it's working. These are the weeds or complaint and criticism, of a harsh word or a thoughtless action. They are the weeds of rudeness and bad manners. Let's face it, weeds are all around us. Look at the weed patch Henry Louis Gates and President Obama swam into and kicked around!
Kicking through the weeds is counterproductive. Learning to float through works. "Blessed are the meek"
Friday, July 24, 2009
Church Attendance: what it says
Over a cup of coffee my friend said, "You know, I haven't been to church in a month. Are you going to bawl me out?" I smiled and told him I'm not a policeman. But I asked him what happened. There was no big issue, crisis or controversy. He was not sliding in his faith or angry at God. He was just tired from a heavy load and work and slept in and took it easy on Sunday mornings. I asked him how it was going. He told me he did not realize how hungry we was getting and said he'd be back. This is a good guy, a solid spiritual man. What's happening?
Good old George Barna did some research on church attendance patterns that you might find interesting. Where does it put you?
According to Barna, one way of examining people's participation in faith communities is by exploring how they practice their corporate faith engagement. Unveiling a new measurement model, Barna identified the following five segments:
Unattached - people who had attended neither a conventional church nor an organic faith community (e.g., house church, simple church, intentional community) during the past year. Some of these people use religious media, but they have had no personal interaction with a regularly-convened faith community. This segment represents one out of every four adults (23%) in America. About one-third of the segment was people who have never attended a church at any time in their life.
Intermittents - these adults are essentially "under-churched" - i.e., people who have participated in either a conventional church or an organic faith community within the past year, but not during the past month. Such people constitute about one out of every seven adults (15%). About two-thirds of this group had attended at least one church event at some time within the past six months.
Homebodies - people who had not attended a conventional church during the past month, but had attended a meeting of a house church (3%).
Blenders - adults who had attended both a conventional church and a house church during the past month. Most of these people attend a conventional church as their primary church, but many are experimenting with new forms of faith community. In total, Blenders represent 3% of the adult population.
Conventionals - adults who had attended a conventional church (i.e., a congregational-style, local church) during the past month but had not attended a house church. Almost three out of every five adults (56%) fit this description. This participation includes attending any of a wide variety of conventional-church events, such as weekend services, mid-week services, special events, or church-based classes.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
It really does not look like much; not very impressive in many senses. Montecito Covenant Church continues a custom of Wednesday evening outdoor suppers under the oaks on our patio. Each week a different couple or team of people plan the theme from preparing one entree like last night (broasted chicken, salad, baked potatoes, french bread and ice cream) or pot-luck.
We gather in a big circle at 6:00 pm and hold hands to pray (last night we sang together). Then we attempt to eat a meal with someone new as opposed to old friends eating with old friends.
What makes it great is that there is no program, no other agenda than to eat and hang out with each other. Last night about 100 people showed up of all ages. High schoolers sat at one big table together, college students working over here over the summer showed up, seniors from Samarkand car-pooled together, and the rest just showed up. People hung around till just after 8:00 pm, lingering in conversation on the patio and collaboratively stacking chairs and tables to put stuff away.
What's so special about this? It's church at its finest and most elemental; people loving on other people with no agenda. This is way too fun!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
If you know my son Luke, you know he is committed to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee as both player, coach and videographer. This 12 minute video is reconstructed from a broken camera, so the last few minutes have some audio/video problems, but I am really impressed with the integration of great music and video. Congratulations Luke & Kelly!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
In today's New York Times there is an interesting article about the growing trend for home-funerals and burials. As I read it I wondered if it follows the similar trend for house churches; an attempt to get back to spiritual essentials and cutting out administration and professionals? Home schooling, home churching, home burying, home??????
Sunday, July 19, 2009
This afternoon Martha and I visited my mother at Covenant Village Golden Valley. Martha brought along both ibooks of Liz and Jeff's and Isaac and Anna's weddings that Luke constructed. For over an hour Martha and mother walked through the pages, telling stories of people and why they were there, commenting on decorations, food and dresses and hair-styles. It was tender watching my wife love on my mother.
Leaving her alone in her room, standing in the door waving goodbye to me put a lump in my throat and heart. When will I see her again? It could be this Fall or maybe not until winter. We talk almost daily, but touching her and watching her eyes crease into a smile is something this son needed.
Worshiping at Salem
We went to Salem today to worship. It was great. It was hard. I so love the music, the organ, the tight weave of every word, every response, every text. It was well put together. It was hard because it's no longer "my" charge (not as if I ever 'owned' a church). I think I'm going to need some therapy before transitioning from preaching/leader into active worshiper. I wanted to jump in and add something, but I could not. The Holy Spirit has clearly set me loose from this good church to serve Montecito Covenant Church. And while we were worshiping together at Salem, I was wondering how things were going back in Santa Barbara?
The flood of people who greeted us overwhelmed me. Mark Pattie is doing a great job as the new Sr. Pastor along with Kay Sorvik. The church is well and healthy and growing, maybe because I left at just the right time.
Last night I reflected with Dan about the weirdness of the pastoral life, about calling and release, about where is home and where it's not. It's ultimately a God-thing, about the reasons why he moves pastors around and often leaves lay-persons to a life-time in one area. That stability I envy, but the joy I've experienced in Illinois, Kansas, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and now California are worth it all!
Remember when classes would begin in the fall with the question: So, children, what did you do on your summer vacation? My answer this year would be: I stripped a stairway of old carpet and old adhesive and varnish. Yesterday my day was on my hands and knees, pulling out old carpet, scraping up dried backing and applying noxious stripping paste to the stairs. It was a labor of love; fixing up my son's house and making the stairway better for my daughter.
The revelation is that I do not have a job that demands much from my muscles...and yesterday I bowed in homage to all the craftspeople I know and use who do this kind of work every day. I'm satisfied, but pretty sore.
Friday, July 17, 2009
In a cold drizzle, Tim and I went to Ft. Snelling today to see where our dad's remains were interred. It was right, it was fitting. Underneath his name and rank it said "42nd Rainbow Division; He Was Faithful"
It was not emotional other than a fitting place for our dad, among the faithful veterans. It will not be a place a pilgrimage because I know that he is not there, just the remains. We are citizens elsewhere.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Old Bible Study Group
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Homeless Memorial Service
This afternoon Phil Fiscor and I attended a memorial service for the 17 homeless persons who have died in Santa Barbara since January 2009....yes 17. Phil did a magnificent job playing acapella Bach on his violin. His quiet, professional presence and excellent musicianship brought a dignity to the event that voice alone could not do. The group was gathered, a sculpture was dedicated (a metal sculpture of a cactus with each flower bearing the names of one of the deceased), a Psalm was read and then I led a litany of names punctuated with a bell rung between each name. Then Rabbi Arthur Schaeffer closed with a Kaddish prayer in Hebrew and then in English.
No speeches, no denunciations, no politics, just the dignity of giving anonymous ones names, time and space, for they are known by God.
Vacationing Coffee Cup Warmer
Monday morning was going well; the NYT's, two cups of strong coffee, emailing and cruising web sites. Then came the phone; an automated scratchy voice telling me that if my name was Don Johnson, I should stay on the line because my T-Mobile account was past due. Past due? I always paid my T-Mobile accounts on time. But wait, I don't have a T-Mobile account any more. I cancelled Martha's account when we bought her new iPhone in June. The ATT&T people shifted over the number and the account was closed.
The T-Mobile guy said we were just a month early from the contract date and the cost would be $200!! Are you kidding? Is T-Mobile that fried from Apple taking market share that they are punishing former customers? That is really bad business. Where is their cost in losing a customer? I wonder how many other T-Mobile stories are out there? This is a regressive strategy in my book. I guess I'll pay them slowly in dribbles, but not without letting them know my disappointment in what was a good company.
The sermon yesterday was based on Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21 and revolved around the whole notion of what is and is not a treasure. Treasures on earth are susceptible to decay and degradation while treasures in heaven hold their value and increase in worth over time. Most of the stuff we value clearly falls into the realm of treasures on earth.
One of our young men, wrote to me after the service and shared with me a poem he had recently written just on this theme. The backdrop to this poem are the fires that have ravaged our area this past year. His name is Corey O'Hara:
Fire, take no prisoners!
Rob me of everything I've got,
For if what I have is what I am,
Then really, I am not.
Yes, I've stored up my treasures!
And I know they'll rust and die.
Yet I slave to keep them safe, away;
Thus, where my heart resides.
As ash, the dust of what I was,
Winds from hill to sea,
You've killed your hostage, cursed flame,
But really set me free.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
On Good Worship
In the silence of a Saturday morning in my study, I'm getting ready for tomorrow, reworking the sermon, making notes in the bulletin, thinking about opening and closing thoughts, considering what to do for a Children's Sermon (on treasure). One of the journals I read that helps me quiet my heart is Martin Marty's "Context." It's a monthly newsletter in the old fashioned format, edited by Marty who clips and pastes from his voracious reading.
This morning I read an excerpt from John G. Stackhouse Jr. professor of theology and culture at Regent College on 5 tips for worship leaders. It's a bit of a rant on compensating with volume what a worship team lacks in skill and musicianship. It's easy to rant against mediocrity, but his article made me all the more appreciative of the excellent job our director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, does in blending many sounds and instruments each week, writing out musical scores for the variety of instruments (this week: flute, oboe, guitar and drums) and for working hard on the volume. Bob and the sound crew never overwhelm us with noise, but keep the volume at a level that invites us in to sing, but not so loud we cannot hear our own voices. Thanks Bob!
Thursday, July 09, 2009
If you've followed my blog, you will recall that a creative staff person liberated my overworked coffee cup warmer (active without break since 1985) for a trip to Europe. Regularly they post pictures of my coffee cup warmer frolicking in German, Austrian and maybe even French tourist attractions. That's all fine and good. An appliance needs down time.
But, do you have any idea how fast a hot cup of coffee goes cold? My coffee cups try very hard to keep their warmth by staying in the light, but the heat seeps out and every day I'm finishing tepid cups of luke-warm coffee. Something must be done!
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Michael Jackson & Sacred Space
This has been a year of deaths: my wife's mother in November, my father in May,Michael Jackson several weeks ago, and my good friend Ruth Herzog last Monday. All life is precious and all death aches. When death comes, we long for the sacred and the transcendent, the greatest context that gives our lives meaning and coherence. In our families, that is found as we naturally fall back into the arms of the local church body, the community of faith that sustained and carried us.
In both my mother-in-law and my dad's case, it was our "home churches" in Richmond Virginia and St. Paul Minnesota that became the setting for grief, hope, sharing and family. They were totally natural because lives were invested within these walls and among these people.
When I glanced through photos of the Michael Jackson memorial yesterday, I could not help but sense that same longing among his family and friends; the sacred and transcendent. The photo of stained glass in the Staples Center was a curious hint of that sacred hunger.
Yet the final image was more about the myth of our own immortality and less about Jesus victory over death. I could not help but wish that he and they had a home church.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Staff Field Trip
Monday, July 06, 2009
Payback! Ashley & Jason 1, Don 0
I've been known for loving practical jokes: annoyatrons that emit random electric sounds, shocking pens, etc. When I last played a trick on Ashley Miller she said, "Get ready for a pay-back." The week went on and nothing. Ashley and her husband Jason took off for a vacation in Austria and Germany and I showed up at work to find my coffee cup warmer GONE! It's a little thing that plugs into the wall and keeps my ever-present coffee cup warm. I've had this particular cup warmer since 1985...24 years of uninterrupted hot cups of coffee. And now it's gone....until it showed up on the screen in worship Sunday.
Ashley and Jason kidnapped it on their trip to Europe, figuring that this little device needed a much needed vacation. So now, if you are interested, you can follow my coffee cup warmer's vacation with Ashley and Miller on the church web site. Congratulations Ashley and Jason...but I'm still getting a replacement warmer today!
Isaac & Anna's Wedding: extra footage
Sunday, July 05, 2009
The Ecclesiology of Twitter
When I'm asked why I read the New York Times all the way west in California, when there is a great newspaper in the Los Angeles Times to read, my first response is: it does a better job with theology than any other newspaper I've read. It's clearly not a Christian or even religious institution, but it does catch the pulse of the culture. In the July 5th Sunday edition there is a great article on twittering in church and whether it is a good or bad thing. The article examines Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim approaches to electronic media (especially social networks) as a part of (or substitute for) community.
Because I have 400 facebook friends, do I have 400 friends? A rabbi comments that community means being in the same room, face-to-face with each other. A minyan cannot be virtual, it must be in the same place. Hmmm. Sounds like a good seminar for a pastors' conference.
Flags & Church
Do flags belong at church? Do flags belong in sanctuaries? With the Christian flag as well? What about other country flags? Should flags be displayed on national holidays like 4th of July? What does your church do? How was it decided?
AT MCC we installed a flag out on the courtyard to fly on holidays and special days. But it's a work in process and I'd love to have you weigh in on what your church practice is and what your theology says about the use and non-use of flags and worship.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
The Fire Line
After our festivities today, Martha and I drove 10 miles up into the hills behind our house to LaCumbra peak and surveyed the Jesusita fire lines. After the Tea Fire last fall, we were used to seeing charred remains of hillsides. We were again sobered by the devastation of the fire and the clear lines of defense that the fire fighters established to limit the fire's progress. It was very much like looking at a battle-field.
July 4th in Montecito
It's the one parade we both love to attend. At 11:30 in the morning, San Ysidro Street is closed, the community comes out and neighbors parade with their children, dogs, old cars and fire trucks. It lasts about 30 minutes. There is lots of cheering and noise. It's an old-fashioned parade that makes me glad I live where I do.
Jesus' 3rd way with enemies
Tour de France
It was sweet. Memories of summers in France in the hot afternoons. The TV stations carry the Tour de France live without commercials from noon till the end of the stage. Several helicopters and all the motorcycle cameras gave me an unprecedented view of the insides of the race. But the best was always watching Lance conquer mountains and time trials, team events and solo performances. The guy was/is a monster on a bike. And he was an American!
So this morning after breakfast and the NYT's, I casually flipped on TV to the station that carries the Tour to find myself watching Lance again, pouring through the hills of Monaco, no commercial breaks, just Lance grinding up the clock and carving his way around corners. I have no idea how the rest of the time trial will go, but it was just like being back in France. Summer is good!
Thursday, July 02, 2009
In a former congregation a member behaved oddly. He said and did things that were slightly insensitive and bordered on rude. When I went to him and talked with him about his behavior, he dismissed me as meddling (I probably was) and marginalized me from his circle of friendship. When I shared my frustration with a colleague, he asked me, "Well, did you actually think he was teachable?" This both took me back, and freed me up. I clearly realized that this member was firmly set in his ways, habits, routines and behavior. He was beyond teachable, he need to be endured and limited to areas where he would not hurt anybody.
I've thought about that situation recently, but this time in regards to me. Am I still teachable? Am I still open to learning? Are there areas of my life that are off-limits to learning?
I say this because I am in a relationship with an executive coach with the knowledge and funding of the church council. I meet with the coach via phone every three or four weeks with an agenda. I follow-up each meeting with a written report to him and he gives me reading assignments. In this process I am realizing both how much I still need to learn and how resistant I am to changing the way I do things, like run meetings, prepare for worship, organize my time, and use staff and leaders around me.
My hope is that in my 50's I learn more than any other decade of my life. Where are you still teachable and open to learning? Whose voice to you let in to speak to you? Where are you changing the way you used to behave?
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Do the words "adventure" and "worship" naturally fit together? Is worship and adventure for you, for the congregation, for the pastor? Do adventures involve God and the people of God? Or is worship sedate, comforting, soothing, and passive while adventure is out of doors, liberating and secular?
I never thought of adventurous worship till a friend told me of his longing for adventure in preaching and worship. Formulas are not adventurous. Safe is not adventurous. Tradition is not adventurous. Contemporary is not adventurous. Congregational satisfaction is not adventurous.
God is adventurous (see Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, etc). These lives are grabbed by God and impelled on an uncertain journey in unknown territory. Their dependance is whittled down to God alone and he suffices.
It could be that this recession will bring back adventure into the lives of us pastors, church leaders and congregations. Instead of managing properties and budgets, we will be hanging on to the reins of God's galloping horses.
My prayer for me and other pastors is that God would wake up the adventure of discipleship.