Thursday, December 30, 2010

Passed or Died?

A growing term used to substitute for the word "died" is "passed". I wonder how that term morphed. It is probably from "passed away" to "passed". My problem is that it is an active football term: "the quarterback passed the ball." To say that my father "passed" seems to want a direct object: passed what? My father died. My father passed away. My father went home to be with the Lord. Passed just does not do it for me as a believer and as a son.
Does passed carry with it a universalism that all people pass from here to there? That there is a migration of all souls to a better place? Where does Jesus fit into this? I hope I'm not stepping on your toes if you choose to use the word "passed" as a replacement for "died." I think I'll stay with the word "died" for the time being.

The Happiness Advantage: it's so good I almost don't want to share it!

"Fresh Air" with Terri Gross is one of the best interview programs on radio. She interviews a wide and interesting variety of guests. Several weeks ago she interviewed a Harvard trained psychologist named Shawn Achor on his new book "The Happiness Advantage." What caught my attention was his persistent reference to hard research data on the productive value of happiness in the workplace and in life. His field of study is an emerging field of "positive psychology" that focusses less on the dysfunctions than on positive asset development: what works and how can it work better.
I ordered the book as soon as I got back to church and within a few days it arrived. I could not put it down. His argument is almost evangelistic: people can change their brains. Grumps do not need to resign being grumps. We can choose happiness. (Note: Achor began his studies at Harvard Divinity School!?!).
Achor proposes seven principles that can be immediately applied to bring more happiness (and productivity) into the reader's life (and work...and church).
1. The Happiness Advantage: he deconstructs the American myth that hard work brings success and success brings happiness. Happiness is the launching pad for success (sounds like grace!)
2. The Fulcrum and the Lever: our mindsets have an overwhelmingly powerful impact on our social reality
3. The Tetris Effect: what you "scan for" is what you see. If we are primed to see negative, it will "bleed" into every other relationship, so too with positive.
4. Falling Up: failure can be transformed into "post-traumatic growth"
5. The Zorro Circle: recovering small areas of control when life gets out of control
6. The 20 Second Rule: learning to leave passive leisure for active leisure, finding places for genuine reuvenation
7. Social Investment: the real power of being in relationships and healthy connections with others (a great argument for the value of small-group ministries!)

A gift of an open day!!

This doesn't happen very often, but today it does....nothing scheduled!! That's the gift of staying in town over a holiday week when most activities shut down and committees don't meet and people are out traveling and playing: the gift of time! I have not had such productive mornings and afternoons in a long time! See the book review above!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lunch with Isabella

Monday, December 27, 2010

Picnic on the Beach

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Drive Into the Fog

It's grey and cold (relatively) in SB, so we decided to drive up....up El Cielito to La Cumbra Peak to find some snow at 4,000 feet. Unfortunately the fog (or cloud) was as thick as I have ever driven in and wisdom turned us around, but not before Isaac & Anna wanted their picture snapped in the windy, foggy, cloud.

Digital Community

As you can see from the photo above, we celebrated Christmas Eve in the Johnson-traditional way, long relaxing meal, then a slow opening of presents, with Isaac serving as the "Santa Claus". We did not wind up till almost midnight, with the couples slowly drifting off to their rooms and bed.
Now at almost 9:00 a.m. I was the only one up. Anna just got up and set up in the living room for a long "skype-home" with her family in White Bear Lake, MN. She will chat with them for an hour+, catching up with her niece and nephew and just chatting with each other.
I have just finished reading about you: I slowly read through facebook postings from last night and this morning from all over the world, commenting when appropriate and just enjoying your posted pictures and comments about how you celebrate Christmas. While I am alone I am also connected.
Last night MCC had a Candle-light service that was just about packed out. It was elegant because it was text and song with a brief meditation. Sanctuary lights were kept dim with all readings projected on the screens when needed. Liz played her flute with the worship team and with Chris Call on piano. The culminating moment of sanctuary lights off and the slow lighting of candles, one from another, was moving as always. Now we have this open day, with no plans but to be together.
Grace & Peace

Friday, December 24, 2010

2/3rds There

We are enjoying empty-nesting; have been for years. Part of the joy is knowing our three children have found their spouses and career tracks and are happy. It's also fun watching them make their own patterns, routines and traditions. This year Liz & Jeff (front) and Anna & Isaac (back) are able to be with us in Santa Barbara but not Kelly & Luke. They are staying in Illinois with Kelly's mom, brother and wife and sister. Plus Luke has duties at Elgin Covenant. So it's a joy having 2/3rds of the family gathered and it's also right that 1/3rd is off on their own.
Christmas Eve afternoon is deliciously quiet with some dancing, some shopping, some reading and I'm at the table with fresh coffee ruminating and grateful.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lake Johnson

A couple of years ago the church paid to have a retaining wall built in our back yard, encircling the house, but also diverting rain water coming down the hill from Westmont College and higher up. In these last days of rain, the wall paid for itself by diverting a river of water away from the house and into the front garden, now re-named Lake Johnson!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chris Call

Tonight I was wowwed! Chris Call, his wife Lisa and good friend Trish Geyling presented a one hour Christmas concert of readings, arrangements (many by his mother Kathy) and carols for us all to sing. What was so good for me was just showing up and sitting with a good friend and basking in the music and great texts. Where have you been wowwed?

More Sand Art

I had to go back to the beach this afternoon because of the intensity of the rain...and the clay streams in the sand.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rainy Walk

It was not a day for swimming; both too cold and rainy and unsafe water with all the runoff pouring into the ocean from storm drains. But I decided to head out with a poncho, shorts and my ipod filled with podcasts. I had the beach all to myself (one guy was there with his dogs). When I walked under the bluffs at Butterfly beach I noticed these patterns above in the sand. The clay of the bluff was melting from the rain and forming fantastic, high-contrast patterns in the sand. It was a natural art show!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Reading List 2010

Reading is hobby for me. I guess my dad taught me that. He had an epiphany when he realized he no longer "had" to fish on vacation to prove to his friends he was relaxing. When he would come back from vacation in Northern Michigan, his friends would ask him how many fish he caught, so he felt obliged to go fishing, catch fish, and tell his friends. The only problem was he didn't really like fishing. He wasn't opposed to it. But the best way he relaxed was in a quiet spot with a thermos of coffee and books. he always travelled with books and read voraciously in the morning. As kids we learned that Dad was "never available" in the morning. And as he had more free time, he read throughout his days and into the night.
I now have that virus. I love reading books, magazines, newspaper, blogs, facebook links, etc. Words from others inspire me to rethink my world. In addition to reading the Bible again from Genesis to Revelation, I'm always on the lookout for other authors. This has been a great year of inspiring books for me. So I thought I'd share the list of the best ones with you:

1. “Missional Renaissance; changing the scorecard for the Church” Reggie McNeal, Jossey-Bass, 2009

2. “The Hole in the Gospel: the answer that changed my life and might just change the world” Richard Stearns (president of World Vision U.S) Thomas Nelson, 2009

3. “Missional Map-Making: skills for leading in times of transition” Alan J. Roxburgh, Jossey-Bass, 2010

4. “Radical: taking back your faith from the American Dream” David Platt, Multnomah, 2010

5. “The Happiness Advantage: seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work” Shawn Achor, Crown Business, 2010

6. “A Failure of Nerve: leadership in the age of the quick fix” Edwin H. Friedman, Seabury Books, 2007

7. “A Door Set Open: grounding change in mission and hope” Petere L. Steinke, The Alban Institute, 2010

8. “Linchpin: are you indispensable?” Seth Godin, Penguin, 2010

9. “The Search for God and Guinness: a biography of the beer that changed the world” Stephen Mansfield, Thomas Nelson, 2009

10. “The Church of Facebook: how the hyperconnected are redefining the church” Jesse Rice, David C. Cook, 2009

11. “In Search of Sacred Places: looking for wisdom on Celtic holy islands” Daniel Taylor, Bog Walk Press, 2005

12. “A Christian Theology of Place” John Inge, Ashgate, 2003

13. “On Pilgrimage: a time to seek” Jennifer Lash, Bloomsbury, 1991

14. “An Altar in the World: a geography of faith” Barbara Brown Taylor, Harper One, 2009

Monday, December 13, 2010

Diana's Retirement Party

On Wednesday, Dec 8 over 175 friends of Diana Trautwein gathered for a catered meal of Los Arroyos (Diana's favorite restaurant) tamales and a night celebrating 14 faithful years of being pastor, friend, teacher and spiritual director. While I will miss her wise presence as a friend in ministry, she and Dick are remaining part of the MCC community and she will be focussing on providing much more intentional Spiritual Direction for MCC and the community.

Staff Christmas Party 2010

Last Sunday we had the opportunity of hosting the annual staff Christmas party at our house. Everyone brought some delicious food and Martha cooked a southern ham. We spread out around the house at different tables, laughter filling the house. Then, after dessert, we gathered for silly-time, a raucous exchange of white elephant gifts with songs (or attempts at songs) matching the gifts. What I enjoyed most was the laughter that built and filled. Everyone joined in at the silliness and I sat in the corner where I took the picture, deeply grateful for a staff that knows how to play and love each other. Next year will be different with Diana retiring and Jon and Marianne teaching in France for a semester.
My friend Byron today told me a great truth: "Whenever someone offers you champagne, drink it. Always take the opportunity to celebrate!" While we did not have champagne, we did celebrate!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Excellence & Mediocrity

Is mediocrity inherently arrogant? Excellence, it seems to me, tolerates all levels of performance, inviting others to improve whatever they do and go to a next level. Excellence is neither intimidated nor put off by mediocrity. Genuine excellence knows its own worth, but in doing so does not need to tear down others.
Mediocrity however, seems to operate differently. When confronted by a higher level of performance, it goes into attack mode launching blistering criticisms. Mediocrity sustains its own mediocre performance by down-grading anything that would challenge its status quo. Mediocrity is easily threatened while excellence is not.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Dalton lights!

Aaron rocks! This is his home lit with wild lights, computer coordinated to songs. He really impressed us!

Christmas caroling

A rainy night, two trolley cars almost filled, driving through Santa Barbara, seeing the lights, and arriving at a home of a MCC attender. Inside was a table loaded with treats and hot drinks. Soon Bob Gross and Janet Spencer began playing the guitar and piano and led all 50 of us in familiar carols for half and hour or so. I talked briefly and then we sang a couple of songs and piled back into the trolleys for home.

We needed this. I needed this. Just hanging out, singing and enjoying each other.

Why Membership?

If you know me, you know that this is an old theme of mine: if you call a church your home, you should formally and officially join that church. That used to be a non-issue. Folks would visit a church for a while, and when a membership class was offered, they would take the class and in that process make a decision to join or not join the church. Sometimes they would wit for 6 months or a year to see if their initial impression matched the Sunday by Sunday reality they experienced.
And when people joined a church, I always felt a deep responsibility to see that they were connected somehow to others in that body, whether through a Bible study or service group, music of children/youth ministry. And if they were absent for a while, internal antennae would raise the question: "Where is __________? We haven't seen them for a while." And the old "Deacon Board" would, in cooperation with me, initiate a conversation with the member about what was going on in their lives.
Now, with so many choosing to never officially join a church, what is the pastoral responsibility? They have not formally declared this their church home, but by their attendance (I have never had access to giving records so that is not an issue) this is their church home.
In Santa Barbara, we have experienced over the years people who enter into the life of the church with some intensity: regular worship, participation in mission groups, music, or travel. Then, without a word, they are gone. This afternoon Martha and I were visiting and she asked, "Where is ____________? I haven't seen them for a while."
The question is, should I worry? They came here from somewhere and now they are going somewhere else (I think). There was one couple who, after worshiping with us for an extended period, wanted to visit with me about some of our Covenant theological positions. When they found out, they said "We like you and the church, but cannot affiliate with a group with that position." We parted clearly and on very friendly terms. I see them often in the community. But what of the others? I'm not sure we are getting it right. What do some other churches do here?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

2nd Sunday of Advent

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Nick Wieman....thanks for letting me use your Bible!

That's the Bible I've been using for 15 years, since 1995 (maybe earlier). I was told to order a Bible for Nick Wieman who was planning on attending Confirmation at Salem Covenant Church. Nick never showed up and my Bible was pretty beaten up, so I have been working out of Nick's Bible for 15 years. It's taped, marked, and well-used. I have it all marked for every verse on money, sacred space and all the questions of God. I've outlined chapters, and highlighted verses that have touched my life. I physically engage the Bible I use. I wear it out.

But recently I have noticed that I'm reading my markings and observations more than the text. It's kind of like telling jokes with just the punch line, knowing the body of the joke can be filled in. Due to the influence of David Platt and Barbara Brown Taylor, I am convinced I need to pay attention to the Bible better by starting with a fresh one (another unclaimed Confirmation Bible). I need to read straight through again this year so I can pay better attention to what God is up to in my life and the life of this congregation.

Replacing sanctuary bulbs

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Advent starts

Warning! Radical by Platt

I should have known it would cause me trouble. When an entire issue of "Mission Frontiers" magazine is devoted to reflecting on and reacting to one author's book, that's a serious book. I should have read the magazine, noted the author and skimmed the outline of his book. But no, I ordered it from Amazon and received a copy within the week.
David Platt, pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, Alabama does an autopsy on the American dream as it has become embedded in our church culture. It's not an angry socialist rant, but a steady gaze at Jesus and asking "how did we stray so far?" Here are some of the poignant quotes:
"Was I going to believe Jesus or obey Jesus?"
"We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves."
"Do we really believe he (Jesus) is worth abandoning everything for?"
"Accept him? Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance?Don't we need him?"
"Jesus is no longer one to be accepted or invited in but one who is infinitely worthy of our immediate and total surrender."
"The goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God."
"God delights in using ordinary Christians who come to the end of themselves and choose to trust in his extraordinary provision."
"We live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God."
"God loves me is not the essence of biblical Christianity. God loves me so that I might make him- his ways, his salvation, his glory and his greatness known among all nations. Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is."
The book is filled with insightful and disturbing thoughts about how tame we have made the gospel and the church. But the most challenging part of the book his Platt's invitation to a one-year, 5 part plan:
1. Pray for the whole world
2. Read through the whole Bible
3. Sacrifice money for a specific gospel purpose
4. Spend time in another context (cross-cultural)
5. Commit yourself to a multiplying community


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