Monday, March 28, 2011

Looking for the boat

I love keels. They are the heavy part of a boat that connect to the hull to keep the whole boat centers and traveling straight. Keels are the quiet strength of a boat. But when I saw this detached keel on the shore today, I wondered where the boat was? Without a keel, the boat will tip and list and capsize. But, without a boat, the keel is just a hunk of heavy metal wrapped in fiberglass...worthless. Boats need keels, but keels also need boats.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy People: beware!

Beware happy people; you will be targeted. Why? You smile too much, you are just too happy, and you will be attacked. I say this dismal thought after a long talk with a young person who is very happy by nature and keeps getting nailed by grumps, cynics and toxic people. When I was asked why, I said that happy people are easy targets for unhappy people. Happy people just "don't get" the harsh realities of the world and "need to be taken down a notch."
My advice? Do not try to fix unhappy people, but love them and simply pray for them.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jesus; the uprooter

In Mark Labberton's new book, "The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice" he wrote, "But the God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be." (p 66)
No words better prepare us to meet Jesus in the text for this coming Sunday: Matthew 15:1-20 (which I discovered is not in any lectionaries!?). Jesus squares off against the Pharisees and Scribes about tradition and Word. What ends up happening is that Jesus uproots deeply held traditions for the sake of the Word.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Real Ministry!

OK, I'm proud, I'll admit it. Every Thursday night a group of young men and women meet at our church kitchen to cook. They are Westmont students participating in a weekly ministry called "Bread of Life." From 4:00 p.m. till about 6:00 p.m. they cook up really great meals. What you see above is a meal of fajitas for about 60-75 people. Along with the hot meal, they make a salad and bring beverages. Where: they drive to a Santa Barbara park where the homeless gather every night for a hot meal. Bread of Life does Thursdays...every Thursday....even during the summer.

But more than a meal, they sit down and eat with those who arrive. And what makes me proud tonight is that it's totally miserable outside. It's 53 degrees and falling and rain has been coming down for days! It's not a nice night for a picnic or walk, much less sleeping outside with no permanent home. But these young people know what real ministry is: following where God's heart goes. And do you know what's best?

When I stop by to thank them for their hard work (they could be eating a warm dry meal with friends up on campus) they stop and to a person thank me for allowing them to use our kitchen! How good is that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pastoral Vacancies

Today's New York Times has a provocative article about biases in pastoral search committees and hiring practices. Two Covenant pastors, both single, express concern that not being married with children disadvantages them as candidates for pastoral positions.
I can see the logic of both: are they gay? will they date church members? do they have anything to say to couples getting married or marriages in trouble? they do not bring along an unpaid spouse who can supplement the pastor's job. These are all valid concerns. But I think there are other dimensions to the story.
Are they willing to move out of California to a small church in rural Ohio (for example)? Are they open to be a part of a church plant (high risk)? They both show flexibility in going bi-vocational. Is that a growing trend nation-wide? Would they consider a dual-yoked parish (where their time is shared by two smaller churches)?
As we prepare for a dinner this Thursday with Dr. Jay Phelan, the future of seminary education and the "over-supply" of pastors will surely come up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lake Casitas

Travel Expectations

Putting the word “surprise” next to the word “air travel” is not always a pleasant combination. Surprises when traveling by plane today often take the shape of interruptions, nuisances, costs, delays and inconveniences. All of us have had those moments of “surprise” when a bottle that went through airport screening in one location is banned in another. My recent “surprise” was on Continental Airlines. When we settled into our seats, our TV sets in front of us were showing “DirectTV” satellite shows: news, sports and movies. Then a message popped onto the screen inviting us to continue with this great service for a $6.00 credit card charge….Surprise! We now get to pay for TV!! So our screens were blank for the entire flight.

I appreciate it when professionals remove surprises by telling me what to expect at the dentist, the doctor, the car mechanic or accountant. When the doctor says “You’re going to feel a little pinch for a moment” I’m not surprised when it happens. When the VW mechanic says, “The timing belt is going to cost quite a bit” and he tells me the charge ahead of time, I’m not so surprised.

Jesus never surprises his disciples. Jesus discloses everything his disciples will ever experience. Jesus does not practice “bait & switch” by promising something easy and then letting us discover how hard it is. In our long series on Jesus’ expectations of his disciples, we have discovered how transparent Jesus is with those who follow him.

In the text for this coming Sunday (Matthew 10: 24-39) Jesus is about to send his disciples out into mission. But before sending them, he lets them know what to expect. You might want to read all of chapter 10 in anticipation of the sermon. In our text, Jesus puts 6 decisions before the disciples before they head out: no surprises!

Sunday, March 06, 2011


The phone rang. It was my successor and friend Mark Pattie on the line. "Do you have a few moments?" he asked. I say yes and listened as he walked into a room full of noise, no, not noise, it was an organ, it was Cindy Reents on the organ practicing Widor's "Toccata and Fuge" for her Easter postlude. Mark told Cindy to not stop as he held the phone in the air. I listened through the tiny speaker of my phone to the transcendent spiraling ascent of the music, then the reverberating pulse of the low notes...and I wept standing alone in the courtyard in California as the music played in Minnesota.
I was not homesick as much as deeply stirred and blessed by a friend giving me the one gift I missed so much: the transcendent sound of a pipe organ played really, really well. That will never be the case in California. Our sanctuary is not designed for nor has an organ. We have a wonderful Yamaha piano and acoustic and amplified instruments. We have over 40 different musicians who play regularly and delightfully together, weaving a broad tapestry of sounds and styles. There is no battling here between traditional and contemporary, no sense of entitlement or resentment. The spirit of worship is sweet.
I'm not sure why the sound of a pipe organ stirs me so much, Maybe it's the fact that in the church in which I grew up, First Covenant of St. Paul, Bonnie Opel played with equal fervor in my childhood. When I was cleaning the sanctuary for my dad Saturday mornings for my allowance, it would be to the sound of the mighty pipe organ playing. I've never played piano or organ, but have always been stirred deeply by those big, big sounds. On our first trip to France, I was similarly overcome at St. Germain de Pres (sp?) where we walked in to the church where Widor was organist and heard the pipe organ playing and another day in Notre Dame cathedral.
So, bless you Cindy an all other dedicated pipe organists as you bring sounds that stir hearts.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

In Awe

I just got this picture from Luke, who, with his sister Liz, went to visit Martha's dad in Richmond. On there own initiative and dime, they took time out of their lives to invest in their grandfather...and each other. Isaac did the same thing with Anna last year, flying to Florida and driving John back to Richmond in an interesting road-trip! It's a humbling thing to watch your "kids" care for your parents with such depth and sensitivity. I can't help think of the title to that recent movie: "The Kids are All Right!"

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