Saturday, May 29, 2010

Foot-washing at a Wedding

That's right, a foot-washing at a wedding. Yesterday I saw a young bride and groom wash each other's feet before saying their vows to each other. As I stood where this photo was taken, I was both awed and awkward. I watched as she tenderly knelt in her beautiful dress and untied his shoes and took off his socks.She poured water over his feet without a word and dried them. Then she put his socks back on and tied his shoes. He extended his hand from the chair and helped her stand. They exchanged places and then he took off her shoes, pouring water over her feet into the basin and drying them with the towel. When it was over, they stood before me for their vows, the basin filled with water and the used towel lying next to it; a perfect symbol of a life of mutual servanthood.
It's the second foot washing I've seen in a wedding. I think it is a step away from the unity candle tradition; of two flames merging into one. This act is less about identity and more about role: humble servant to each other. It is so spiritually intimate that I almost feel like I should turn away. Nothing triggers a pastoral prayer for a couple than to pray over them while they kneel at each other's feet and wash them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Weddings

This is a high-functioning weekend at our church. This morning there will be a memorial service for an old saint. Then tonight a rehearsal for a Saturday wedding and on Saturday a rehearsal for a Sunday wedding. The families are both members and friends with each other. Former members are coming from across the country to celebrate (and it's over Memorial Day weekend!). And I am allowed (invited) to be in the middle of it all as the pastor, the officiant, the friend of the families.
But I had this flash of what's happening during my devotions this morning. After a time of reading I went to prayer and concluded, as I always do, with prayers for my own family, naming my children...as couples: Isaac & Anna, Luke & Kelly, Liz & Jeff. I realized that I don't pray for them as individuals without their spouses. I think of them as couples (couplets?) Certainly they are still individuals in their own identity. But now they are more, they are joined, united, one flesh, even in my language. And, by extension, are so many of the friends I can list off in my mind who are married. They come to mind in two's.
And maybe that's why divorce and death are so tough. Our language changes and harshly adjusts to the new singleness that we formerly knew as couples. It's not that way with my single friends. I think of them in their individual singleness, even those who are dating or engaged. Something happens at the vow-time.
In William Willimon's book Pastor, he stresses how one of our functions is to bring a counter-narrative to the church. A Bible-narrative that names life differently than the narratives of culture, media, the market-place and psychology. So this weekend I am allowed to call to persons one new flesh. How fun is that?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In Praise of Making Music

I subscribe to a journal compiled by Dr. Martin E. Marty called Context: Martine E. Marty on Religion and Culture. In the June volume he quotes Yale's Thomas Troeger: "The image of the organ as an instrument of healing awakened in me memories of when I have come to church fragmented and exhausted, sometimes from grief, sometimes from tragedies that overtook friends, sometimes from the brutal atrocities committed by warring nations and races.... Then the organ began to play; sometimes it was soft, slow piece on a flute stop, sometime sis was something big and brash, but whatever it was, it was a sound that had the character of transfiguring light in the darkness of my soul. It gathered the fragments of my being into a pattern of resilience, renewed energy, and hope."
That quote flooded me with memories of the Easter following a particularly soul-wrenching season in my life. Cindy Reents played Widor's "Toccatta and Fuge" as a postlude with particular energy and skill. I gave the benediction after the middle of 3 services and peeled back along the hallway and sneaked back behind the huge Holtkamp tracker organ. As Cindy played, I flattened myself against the wooden walls of the pipe organ, not only hearing the sounds, but feeling the vibrations of the great musical instrument and I wept with thanksgiving to God.
The church I serve now has no pipe organ, nor will it. It would neither fit the sanctuary or the worshiping community. I am privileged to work with a phenomenally gifted musician, Bob Gross, who almost weekly composes music for the variety of instrumentalist who grace our worship.
I thank God for surrounding me with musicians who have brought me healing through sound.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Sign Works

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New Surf Look

Good Visit

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In John 4 the woman at the well wanted to get into a worship-war argument with Jesus about who had the best worship: Jerusalem or Gerezim? Jesus' answer was that real worship was in Spirit and Truth? How does the Holy Spirit make your worship real and true?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Confirmation Sunday: Part #1

Confirmation is embedded into my identity as a pastor. I marked on facebook that this was Confirmation Sunday #30. But that's not quite true. Phil Stenberg allowed me to co-teach confirmation when I was his youth pastor in Northbrook for a couple of years. So I've taught Confirmation in Northbrook, Lafayette, Muskegon, New Brighton and now Santa Barbara...and it only gets more enjoyable for me.
Classes have changed in size from 2 in Muskegon to 30 in New Brighton. This year we had 3 confirmands, with one missing today because of a band trip. So for the first time, we will have a second confirmation during next Sunday worship. In other churches I taught alone or with other staff members. In New Brighton, I taught only one class (2nd year) with a team of teachers. Now in Santa Barbara I've taught with other staff members and now with Martha. It's a new and delightful rhythm teaching with Martha. She uses her creativity to help students fashion a picture of each week's lesson at the end of the lesson. It gets laminated and posted on the wall. By the end of the year we have a string of panels that tells the whole story of the OT and NT.
Teaching confirmation forces me to distill, distill, distill. Get the story straight and simple. Make sure 7th and 8th graders are getting it. That is such a great challenge; to be briefer rather than longer. I feel like confirmation puts Twitter-like restrictions on class content, and that's not all bad.
Afterward we were invited out for lunch with one family and I was overwhelmed again by the privilege of having parents and grandparents thank me for being pastor to their child.

Walking around Jericho...every Sunday

I've finished my "walk around Jericho" today. I'm guessing every pastor has his or her routine to make Sunday morning work, a ritual pattern. Here's mine: Breakfast with the New York Times' front, travel and sports section, check facebook and email, shower/change, make office coffee then set up patio coffee/hot water urns, unlock restrooms and sanctuary doors, read devotionally for 30 minutes and pray for staff and worship team, read over sermon out-loud in office (not too loudly!), plan opening words for worship and children's sermon. More coffee! Ready to go.
What's yours?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Looking Good Santa Barbara

13 known (some others might have arrived without us knowing) MCC members joined hundreds to clean up the East side of SB. Our crew weeded, scraped and painted a wall of the Armory. It was good to work together within our community.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Seth Godin's "Linchpin"

Are you reading Seth Godin's blog yet? Bookmark it now. Read it several times a week. His is a gold-standard blog because it's short, compact, to-the-point and stimulating. Seth makes you think about your assumptions and practices. He challenges the status-quo. And as a pastor, he is a gift.
When I saw his book Linchpin at the bookstore. I immediately picked it up and read it over the last couple of days. The question is: are you a linchpin in your organization or a cog? Do you stand out as being indispensable or replaceable? Is your brain run by and artist or a lizard? Do you need a map or do you draw maps? Are you about taking or giving? He closes with the 7 abilities of linchpins:
1. they provide a unique interface (I personally don't like that word) between members of the organization.
2. they deliver unique creativity.
3. they can manage situations or organizations of great complexity.
4. they lead customers.
5. they inspire other staff.
6. they provide deep domain knowledge.
7. the possess a unique talent.

Be sure to read this book with a marking pen for all the great quotes!

Confirmation Sunday

Confirmation was a big deal in Minnesota, with its strong Lutheran and Roman Catholic heritage. The confirmation classes I taught in Minnesota were routinely twice the size of the regular Junior High youth group and Sunday School class. Whole families returned to church for their children's 7th and 8th grade years so they could be confirmed....and then they often vanished again after Confirmation Sunday until that child needed to be married back in their "home" church.
California does not have that strong confirmation tradition. So on the family night last Wed (see photo below) I asked the parents, grandparents and adults, how their faith was transmitted to them? What was the means and venue through which they went from child-faith to adult-faith. Some did say confirmation. Others said a strong Sunday School brought them to personal faith in Jesus. Others spoke about Bible Camps and Vacation Bible Schools. Some others said it never happened to them until they were adults.
This Sunday we will use salt and light and the laying on of hands to send the signal, message and truth to our three confirmands that they are one of us, part of the cohort of adult believers that compose the church. While their bodies are still adolescents, their faith hearts are adult and we recognize, bless and anoint them as such.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


The kids arrive with nervous anticipation. Parents and grandparents have a proud glow about them. This is a good-news night. The food was fabulous: tri-tip, salads, toasted bread, baked beans, salsa, a desserts!

Then the time came for Bible memory and the students stumbled through some of the books and nailed others. Martha led then through a journey of the wall. Each week the students collaborate with Martha to construct one picture summarizing the weekly lesson. So on the wall last night we had a visual representation of two years of confirmation: OT & NT.

Then the three graduates read their papers: What is Salvation, What are the Effects of Sin, What is Sin? We sat in stunned silence as these 8th graders wrangled with deep descriptions and consequences of sin and salvation. For me it is epiphanous; they get it. They are "confirming" a faith that is their own.

When the papers were done, I had them stand in the front to receive blessing from their parents, grandparents, and fellow students. That's when it gets emotional, hearing the words of encouragement for the journey.

Is this a great job or what?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Star Wars, Legos "Readers' Digest" Version

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Confirmation final exam

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Why not to try something new

I went surfing for the first time today. I was also reading Seth Godin's great new book Linchpin this morning. Today he was talking about the "lizard" brain that urges us to safety, to not try anything new, to resist the artist urge we have to create. Godin goes into great length about brain studies and how the brainstem overrides the other areas of the brain when it comes to survival. When faced with a threat, fear takes over control. But Godin takes this truth further and talks about how all of us have great ideas, but few of us pursue them because our "lizard" brain tells us how stupid it is, how likely we will fail, how everyone will laugh at us, how much hard work it will be to learn something new, how the old ways are well-known and comfortable.

So, my friend James (a major surfer) invited me to go surfing with him and some friends at a pretty famous beach called Rincon. After giving me some basic tips, he took off into bigger surf farther out and I paddled around closer to shore, catching smaller wave, evening getting up onto my knees a couple of times, before toppling off like a goof.

But after an hour and a half, I was done, and it was really small surf. My arms, back, legs were toast. I haven't used these muscles this way before. And now my "lizard" brain is saying, "See, that was a dumb idea. You're lousy at it. You'll never learn it. You're too old to take on a young person's sport. Stick with swimming." And then this afternoon Godin's book and my experience merged. WE'll see over time which brain wins out.

Swagger Wagon (tipped off from Isaac)


Confirmation: a best practice to consider

A couple of posts ago I have a picture of Emma's party. In talking with others, I think I need to tell you more about that "party" and recommend it to churches, pastors and parents as a wonderful "best practice" to consider.
Emma's parents decided to have 2 parties for her 15th birthday: one with her friends, a traditional birthday party and a separate one for some chosen and significant adults in her life. We were all asked to bring a book to give her to build her adult library and words of advice to her. There were only 5 couples and a single friend who came. We had desert and light conversation. Then we were gathered together and Emma chose the wrapped gifts and we had to share with her why the books and notes were valuable to us and what we wished for her as she entered into adulthood.
It was tender, it was silly, it was deep, it was intense. Emma knew that evening that this bunch of adults loved her and cared for her growth as one of them, as another adult. We gave her permission to come to us, visit with us as friends on the journey.
Then at the end of the evening we had her sit in a chair in the center of the room and we all laid hands on her and prayed for her. I was given the privilege of closing in prayer as her pastor.
As this evening was progressing I thought: this is what confirmation should be! This was a glimpse of confirmation at it's best. So I would commend to you this very simple and elegant practice of inviting a small circle of spiritually healthy adults to surround your child on the afternoon of Confirmation Sunday and present her/him with a single important book to build their adult library that they can take with them.
What did I give? Imitation of Christ by aKempis.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Francis Chan...on being called

Francis Chan is stepping out in faith... from Catalyst on Vimeo.

Take the time to listen to Simi Valley pastor Francis Chan articulate how God calls. In this case it's a story of God nudging him out of a successful and fruitful ministry into something unknown and unclear.
In these days I am eager to hear witnesses of God's call on people's lives. With the economy what it is, too often the story is about getting a job and staying safe, moving within known areas, responsibilities and patterns. God bless Francis as he heads into new "pastures" in the LA basin.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sunday Picnic

Crazy Hat Sunday!!

I took this picture with my iPhone during announcements. I was later reminded that I should advertise just what this was about: the women of MCC are having a Mad Hatter Tea on May 15 at church at 3:00 pm. All women and girls are invited...with their crazy hats!

Do You Hear Me Now?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Emma's Party

Companion with Whom?

Who are your companions? What qualifies a person to be your companion? How does someone lose companion status with you? In our virtual culture of cyber-friends and associates, this is a deeper question than it appears on the surface. Does the number of persons who are registered as my Facebook Friends mean that I have that many or that few friends? What levels of commitment do you carry to the many and varied groups that take up your time?

The text from Psalm 119:63 is the founding text for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Ours is an inclusive companionship based on the fear of the Lord and our commitment to Jesus Christ. Now the challenge is to meaningfully live that out.

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