Saturday, October 30, 2010


It was still dark outside when I walked into the coffee shop to meet with a young man. While waiting for our orders to come up, I noticed a strangely dressed woman. She had on sequined bloomy pants and pointy flat shoes. The pants billowed out and were slit up the side exposing leg tights. She wore a matching sequined vest and big silver necklaces. A yoga instructor? Some sort of dance teacher? A person of Roma (formerly called Gypsy) background? My friend and I could not figure out her unique dress….until a little girl came in with her mother wearing wings taped to her back. Halloween! They were wearing Halloween costumes for work/school celebrations.

But it was too dark and too early for me to connect the dots. I was distracted and disoriented by Aladdin-genie garb so early on a Friday morning. I wish I could say it was the first time, but it’s not. I am often fooled by external appearances and rush to judgments about people based on incomplete information or just on observation.

The worship text for Sunday is a classic on how appearances can be deceiving. It’s the well-known story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Everything about him makes him an unsuitable prospect for discipleship. On the surface there was little potential for him becoming a follower of Jesus. Yet, “salvation came to this house.”

In a familiar story like this, we can easily fill in the blanks because we know it so well. I invite you to read this text at least three times before coming to church on Sunday

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, guest preacher

I love preaching. I mean, I really love all the work that it takes to translate texts and do the reading, research and reflection. The staff I have served with knows how jealously I guard the privilege of preaching. But the congregation needs to hear other voices, of this pastoral staff and other leading voices in the larger body of Christ.
Years ago I invited Dr. Scot McKnight to preach here. Many still remember his powerful presence and preaching/teaching. This Sunday I invited Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom to preach at Montecito Covenant. It's not because I need a break, but more that we need to hear her strong voice and insightful mind.
I hope to bring in these "best voices" regularly each year to get the congregation as excited as I am about the state of Christian leadership formation in both the Covenant Church and in the wider community.
Michelle will be preaching at both the 9:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vending Machine Gold

Check out this article about gold purchases with a vending machine.

Prayer Vigil for SB City Council

At noon today a group of area clergy and people who work with the homeless population of Santa Barbara gathered outside of the City Hall for a prayer vigil. Why a prayer vigil? There is tension between the business community and some meal providers. The number of people showing up for noon meals is growing. Before and after meals are served they walk on, pass through and congregate on an area street. This growing presence of homelessness is problematic for business owners. So there is a discussion underway about revoking the condition use permit to provide meals to the homeless (and some are not homeless but just hungry). But then where would they eat? It's not a simple problem and the best community leaders are committed to both feeding the hungry and making streets safe and businesses attractive.

Can you see what a can of worms this is? It's something I'd rather not get drawn into. But when I was asked to be one of the pray-ers, I had to say yes. Who cannot pray for God to guide leaders in something so ethically weighty? Five clergy prayed: Jewish, Unitarian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (me). Below is the prayer I prayed:

"God you love cities. In your plan cities are places of refuge and hope. Cities dispense justice at their gates. Cities are where the schools and hospitals nest. Cities gather wisdom and art, business and trade. Lord you made cities to be places of safety and security.

Yet, O God, cities experience brokenness like individuals do. That’s why we are coming before you today Lord, to pray for this city, the city of Santa Barbara and its leaders. They face a big challenge Lord, of balancing needs and priorities, demands and concerns and knowing what is the right thing to do. Give your leaders wisdom and discernment today to find solutions and collaborative ways to be the city you want us to be.

We pray for those in our city who are hungry and need to eat. May they be fed with grace and dignity in ways that please you. We thank you for all those individuals and groups who give of their time and money to feed hungry people.

We pray for those who own businesses and live in our neighborhoods. God give them safety and security. During these tough economic times, help them to be wise and creative. And we pray for businesses in our community to thrive and blossom. We pray for safety on our streets and sidewalks where children go to school and parents push their babies and seniors gather for conversations and young people play soccer. We pray for our law enforcement officers who regularly stand in harms way to ensure safety and justice.

O God, keep shaping us into a city that pleases you. Amen."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

M-4 Walk for Water

This is a clip one of the young men from MCC did yesterday showing what happened when four churches decided to do something together in Jesus' name to bless the world.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Prayer

It's the little 3 letter greek word "dei" that grabbed my attention. It's general meaning is: must, compulsory, it is necessary. When Jesus says "dei" we better listen. In Luke 18:1-8 he begins by saying that it is necessary for us to pray at all times (or always) so that we don't "faint". That's our option: pray or faint.

Why I Love the Church

As a child of a pastor married to another child of a pastor, with both families populated with pastors, we can get pretty cynical about church life. I've often said to someone who voices a complaint about the church that I can probably see you and raise you by a factor of four!
But in this season of my life, I am regularly surprised and delighted by the church. I am humbled by the church. Today was designated as the M-4 Walk-for-Water event. The four churches of Montecito walked a 2.5 mile route to raise funds and awareness of the need for freshwater wells and pumps in Ethiopia in partnership with World Vision. It's been cold, drizzly and grey for the last couple days here. This morning was not different. There were three other (at least) competing walks in our community. The economy is not conducive to fund-raisers. We are all tired. I lowered my expectations for the day. Dumb me!
About 125 people of all ages (one in a wheel-chair) showed up to see a compelling World Vision video about a 22 year old woman in Kenya named Sabina who walks several miles twice a day for water for her family. Then out we marched into the streets of Montecito. I led the first group and was buzzed by a cluster of girl-scouts who were excited to help fill the buckets when we finally hit the beach. The grey skies proved to be a blessing, keeping the temperature down. People walked at a relaxed gait, talking to their neighbors in the village and each other along the route. Every group had members of each of the four churches. While the final count of dollars raised is not yet in, this pastor got totally blessed by the body of Christ!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Checked Out?

I needed devotions today. The sermon is in good shape and I have not been to Westmont College chapel this Fall. So I hiked up the hill to the gym. Along the way I met some students who attend MCC, faculty and staff I know, and greeted my good friend, Ben Patterson, Chaplain of the College. Typically for me, I sat near the back next to a mom who’s son is previewing the school.

The music was good. The Westmont orchestra played a contemporary song along with the worship band. Then Dean Jane Higa introduced the students to a series I did not know was going on “The Joy of Hymns”. The hymn featured today was “Be Thou My Vision” and what it meant to former Westmont president Dr. David Winter.

When Ben got up to preach, I was primed. He spoke on Christian Counterculter and our relationship with Jesus who is the “I Am”. I won’t dissect the sermon point by point, but it was good! He related Jesus to light and life and connected Jesus to the Feast of Tabernacles and the great chandelier that was the visual focus of worship and how Jesus inserted himself as the fulfilling light.

But in front of me were three students bent over. I thought at first it was in concentration, but then I saw a pair of ear-buds on one, a Sudoku book in the other’s lap, and an iPhone playing Scrabble in the others. They were not being distracting or rude, but totally checked out. They missed a sweet meal of gospel and hope. I don’t know them and don’t want anyone to get into trouble. It’s just that I noticed how if we are already checked on about something, we will miss whatever good thing is embedded there. If I am sure there is nothing good a Republican/Democrat/Tea Party person can say, I’m already checked out. If I refuse to pay attention to the flight attendants safety briefing, I’m checked out on where the exits are that could save my life. If I dismiss elderly or youngerly, I’m already checked out on the blessing they might bring to my life. I began to reflect on all the ways I check out on people before they say word one.

Lord, help me pay attention to the ways you want to speak to me and bless me!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Where Are The Other 9?

10 are healed. 1 comes back to thank Jesus. What's with that? It's an old and familiar story that I get to preach this week. What's with gratitude? Why did that one, healed leper, who happened to be a Samaritan too, come back to thank Jesus? What's the connection between thanking and being saved?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Let's Get Lost!

Right up front; I love technology. I’m writing on a MacBook Pro with an iPhone4 synced to it. I have fun with the apps I’ve downloaded. And when I drive, I use an old but reliable Garmin GPS to navigate my way through LA or other new locations. I’m learning to enjoy streaming shows on Hulu and am contemplating dropping cable for AppleTV. I’m not an early adopter of techy things, but follow the advice my sons give me (guide me).

This past summer, when Martha and I returned to France, we leased a Peugeot and were given the option of a GPS for our wanderings. I immediately declined the offer because I (we) like getting lost, guessing where roads go and trying to figure out where we are. Now I do have the advantage of a wife with a keen sense of direction and my willingness to obey her hunch of which road to take.

Relying on a GPS map and voice, I have found, focuses my attention on the map/voice and the immediate road ahead of me and not on all that surrounds me. I lose texture and context and instead focus on a linear point and destination.

In today’s NYT’s, Edward Rothstein writes an article that encapsulates my reluctance to become over-dependent on my iPhone apps and other appliances. He noted how people in museums were more dialed into their devices than the art in front of them or around them. It’s the phenomenon that Jerry Mander wrote of in his classic book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” back in the 70’s. The issue is mediated reality. As opposed to directly observing and participating in life, we have it packaged, sanitized and predigested for easy consumption. And, after seeing something through that lens, we actually think we have been there and done that.

So I think I’ll leave my nice iPhone off when we go to the next museum and maybe I can get lost!

World Communion Sunday: a servant feast

Expectations are gnarly things. I like to critique yours and protect mine. They are deeply embedded and carefully nurtured over time. You know when you hold one deeply when you find yourself responding strongly when that expectation is not met. These can range from tidiness to error free spelling, from common courtesy to punctuality, from compensation levels to professional titles and recognition. Often expectations are given moral armor when clothed as a right, even a civil right. I think it's right to expect to not be hit or yelled at. I think it's right to expect non-violent behavior from others and respect for other's property.
The question Jesus addresses in the text for Sunday (Luke 17:1-10) is Jesus' expectations for his disciples versus their expectations. He expects them (read us) to be bridges for others and not barriers. He expects them to be forgivers rather than resenters. He expects them to fully employ their mustard-sized faith. He expects them to show gratitude rather than expect gratitude.
It's great that this Sunday is World Communion Sunday, so that the whole focus rests on the Lord's Table, set by a servant for his servants.

Friday, October 01, 2010

An Unwanted Visitor

I went for my Friday afternoon swim today, as I have done now for years. As I was getting into the water, a young woman with a dog walked up to me and said: "I don't want to scare you, but I just saw a shark around the buoy over there." She then pointed down the shore to a buoy I normally swim towards. She said the shark was only 4-5 feet long and did not know the type, but thought I should know.
I am learning the delight of swimming with and toward dolphins...but sharks? I walked out a few yards, jumped into the water and swam about twenty yards out, turned around and swam in again. I think I'll let that guy have the water to himself today!

Role of Superintendent?

I was a seminary intern in Osage City, Kansas. It was tough going. I made mistakes and was pretty confused. Then one rainy Fall day the Conference Superintendent, Warren Swanson, drove into town to take Martha and me (and Isaac) to dinner in Topeka.
There was one topic on his mind: how are we doing? He asked insightful questions. He listened for a couple of hours as we poured out our frustrations. He offered tender advice. He told us funny stories. And he prayed for us. When he dropped us off than night back at our house, we felt cared for, not alone, and pastored. The Superintendent pastored us.
Fast forward 30 years. I have served churches now in five conferences. Times have changed. Life has increased in speed and demands. We are linked technologically all the time. And the pressure is on pastors to produce, hit markers, manage the budget and staff (for multi-staff churches) and lead the congregation. The question that came up in a couple of phone conversations this week is; who pastors pastors today? Is it the job of the conference Superintendent?
The Northwest Conference of the ECC is now on a search process for a new Superintendent to step in after Jim Fretheim retires. One phrase that I heard is: "Raise funds, cast vision, manage the ministries." I don't know if this is an accurate reflection of the job description, but it does make me wonder, where is the pastoring component? Or is it there any more? Is it the job of the pastor to resource his or her spiritual care? Do the fiscal demands of leading a conference overshadow the spiritual care concerns? As conferences grow in size and complexity, it seems impossible for one person to pastor hundreds of pastors and staff persons.
Places like the Midwinter Conference are excellent resources for pastors to receive care. So also are initiatives like "Sustaining Pastoral Excellence" and "Veritas". I have written about this before, but it comes up again. The economic pressures on denominational leaders and Superintendents can all but squeeze out simple pastoral care if attention is only given to the urgent. I have the luxury of having a church that underwrote the cost of an Executive Coach for me. This is a person I can have unguarded and candid conversations with about leadership demands, stresses and concerns. But is that only open to churches with financial resources?
A good topic for a Covenant Companion piece or Covenant Newswire would be on how the leadership sees this concern.

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