Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite Books: 2012

Here's my list of the best books I've read in 2012:
Edwin Friedman "A Failure of Nerve: leadership in the age of the quick fix"
Seth Godin "We Are All Weird"
David Platt "Radical: taking back your faith from the American dream"
Mark Labberton "The Dangerous Act of Worship: living God's call to justice"
Eugene Peterson "The Pastor: a memoir"
Thomas Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum "That Used To Be Us: how America fell behind in the world and how we can come back"
Thomas Green S.J. "A Vacation with the Lord"
Thomas a Kempis "Imitation of Christ"

2012...the year of unsubscribing

I'm starting it now. Instead of hitting the "delete" button on the endless emails that come in for everything from pharmaceuticals to vacation real estate, I'm taking the time to go to the bottom of the page and click on "unsubscribe". Simply deleting is no longer enough. They come cluttering into my in-box with such a flurry, I spend too much time deleting junk and not enough time responding to legitimate emails.
What else do I need to "unsubscribe" from? What mental clutter is displacing important priorities? Hulu+ videos, facebook comments, basketball, ....? My first task is to determine what is and isn't clutter. How about you? How do you determine the clutter in your life?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Creating or Controlling

Martha and I had a long conversation the other day about the topic of creating and controlling. She commented that some of her students have within them the creative spark that allows (demands) them to create. She can see it when they are pursuing an idea that demands innovation and doing something new and risky.
On the other hand, some students just want the safe formula that works. They want rules and borders, boundaries and technique, but refuse to take risks, opting instead for the certainty of the known.
That translates into much of life. The creatives try the new, explore the adventure, delight in the unknown, while the controlling stick with routines, patterns and known commodities. I can think of musicians, cooks, and writers in both camps. I can also see faith working in both areas as well.
Some believers want the rules, formulas and prescriptive advice for life, while others are content with a few verities and then improvise. I wonder about my life as a pastor of a church (really the fourth church) and where I'm creative and where I like control. The church bounded by routine, rules and fixed order is safe, but sometimes dull and stifling. We find our spot and do our job and then do it again and again.
Creative types ask questions and think of new ways of loving, worshiping and doing mission. Creative types are not bound by titles and degrees, roles and routines and are, often, disruptive. Control is not a bad thing. It's a good thing to stay within budget and to know what's happening next. But when control dominates faith there is little room for surprise, wonder, awe and adventure.
How do we invite in more creativity without succumbing to chaos? How can controlling types welcome and not be threatened by creative types? How can creative types love and appreciate the gifts that controlling types bring to the church? Where do denominational structures help and get in the way?
It's going to be a fun 2012!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Wonderful New

As the post below stated, this Christmas was a whole new experience for me. None of my children and spouses could be with us in Santa Barbara this year. I'm on the cusp of being a grandfather (any day/week now).
So Martha and I took this as an opportunity to start some new things (I'm not sure if they're customs yet). We bought a tree just for ourselves, smaller and funkier. Martha bought a bunch of clear bulbs of random designs and hung them from the center ceiling beam in the living room, creating this floating space. We moved the family room eating table into the center of the living room in front of the fire place. Then Martha started cooking, marinating fine cuts of meat in a wine sauce for three days (they were clearly unable to drive!). We invited a friend over who is also alone on Christmas Eve and, after the candle-light service, we ate a really long, slow, wonderful meal together.
After our friend left, Martha and I opened each other's gifts, just like we did in our first years of marriage. By that time it was well past midnight.
Church the next morning was really fun; different but fun. We did not think many people would come to a Sunday Christmas Day service following a huge Christmas Eve candle-light service, But they did, and they sang, and they stayed and hung out together.
Martha and I quickly changed clothes, packed up all the presents and drove down to San Diego for dinner with Isaac and Anna. Anna had a feast planned for us (a different post later).
It's a quiet Monday after Christmas. Everyone is still asleep (including grand-dog Lily) and I'm enjoying the bright quiet of the couch, a cup of strong coffee and life!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When the change began

Three years ago tonight, I officiated at our daughter's wedding. That was the year everything changed. Now looking back on that day/night, it was SPLENDID! Family and friends flew in from around the country. We put up a tent and hired a Gypsy Band and Liz and Jeff's swing-dancing friends literally "danced into the night" leaving us in rapt attention to the beauty of bodies in motion on a dance floor.
Earlier that Fall Martha's mom died after her battle with cancer. Then while attending the funeral, the Tea Fire devastated our hills, burning 12 church families' homes to the ground. Within 13 months of Liz and jeff's wedding, Isaac married Anna and Luke married Kelly. We became in-laws real fast and watched our children become couples and families in their own spiritual sovereignty. Later in the Spring my dad died and we had another evacuating fire.
Now we are in the exciting waiting phase of the birth of a first grand-child in January sometime. At that means that this Christmas is the first one in 32 years with no children or spouses around us Christmas Eve. Oh, we are fine! We are driving to San Diego Christmas Day after worship and will have a Provencal dinner Christmas Eve with a good friend.
But it's all different, a new time and new season with the same God. What a ride!

Monday, December 19, 2011


It's so familiar we don't always see it. Like a stop sign at an intersection, our lives get filled with familiar signs, foods, customs, people, places and traditions. I know what I'm familiar with...and I like those familiar things. I have sampled different foods and beverages and find that I like unflavored coffee made dark with a touch of cream in the morning. When I see a cheeseburger, tri-tip, or grits, I know what they will taste like...and I like those tastes. When I see a person whose name I know well and who likes me, I like spending time with him/her. I know the tv shows I go to on Hulu and those I avoid (animations and sci-fi among a few). There are authors I know and love reading and those I have not read, and probably won't
There is nothing wrong with the familiar. We come by the familiar after long work with the new and the strange. Some lessons we learned the hard way (hot spices or goat hearts). And the older I get, the more I like what I like because I like it (thank you very much!).
But today I began to reflect on "familiar" as a spiritual adjective: familiar hymns, familiar texts, familiar prayers, familiar spiritual routines and practices, familiar churches and traditions, familiar architecture, music and theology.
I'm blessed to be in a church that embraces a wider variety of music than I experienced or prefered. But gracious believers are teaching me to stretch out of my familiar patterns and try some new songs and styles, some new instruments and sounds. And it's good, not always familiar, but good. Moving across the country, pushed us out of familiar friendships honed over decades into brand new relationships here in this community. And it's good, not always familiar, but good. Why? Because I keep encountering a God who loves beyond my boundaries of familiar and invites me into new relationships, sounds, customs and friendships.
The danger of the familiar to me is that I can put the familiar on a pedestal and let it be my only lens for what I will try, experience, eat or relate to. If you are an outsider and not familiar, I am tempted to not let you in under any circumstances. When I get to worshiping only the familiar, God is not God, the familiar is.
So, as we enter this most tradition-weighted week in the Christian west, watch out for the familiar...and try something new!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


There are times when church life gets wearily tough; endless meetings, intractable problems, strong personalities, unanticipated events, and the budget struggles.

But today was an "Mmmmmm!" sort of day. The staff hummed. Bob pulled together a brass ensemble and vocal group that sang Christmas carols marvelously. Lisa used her strong voice to sing with the group and lead in a song. Jon led worship and preached a great sermon on God's sovereign freedom. The story at the steps was delightful. A care group lit the fourth candle and one member let me interview her about how this group carried her through the death of her husband and provided a sustaining community. Then Ashely corralled the kids into a sweet "pageant" with angels, shepherds, oxen, Mary & Joseph (maybe a couple Josephs) and wise men decked out finely. We were worshiping at one time instead of two and the congregation delighted seeing each other. Afterward Martha and I were invited to join this fellowship group for lunch and blessings.

It was good to be church today!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Church Den: life in community

It wasn't necessarily impressive. It was a hodge-podge gathering of about 40 people with kids sitting on sofas, chairs, the floor. Some of the kids were playing ping-pong while others colored. Lights were low. There were no microphones or screens. Bob played guitar, Allyson played piano and Bruce played flute, and Jon sang along.
There was coffee and cider and cookies. They sang nothing but familiar carols and interspersed them with personal stories about songs, caroling or Christmas. Our confirmation class ended early and we joined in. Around 8 pm some with younger kids needed to leave, confirmation parents picked up kids who needed to do homework, but others lingered, kept singing, talking and hanging out.
One couple turned to me and said, "This is like the church den, where we can just hang out!" I think we discovered something precious!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Our Little Tree

2nd Sunday in Advent

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins." Isaiah 40:1-11

That's the good news: Comfort.

Hanging of the Greens

It's one of my favorite Saturday events....the hanging of the greens. We're never sure who all will come, but an informal group of "regulars" shows up to work all morning. We wire-wrapped juniper bundles and hung them under all the exterior lights. Large bundles of juniper and other found plants were wrapped to frame the entry doors to the sanctuary and around the large lights in the patio. Then a group, pictured above, put lights on the large tree, hung ornaments and decorated both large ledges along with swags under the side lights in the sanctuary.

Right now, the sanctuary is filled with the aroma of pine and juniper....and Advent!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Advent #2 Comfort

A formative class I took in seminary was “Clinical Pastoral Education” (or C.P.E.). It was a hospital-based class that taught us how to minister in a clinical setting. We were assigned various units at the hospital. We were taught how to read and write our activity on patient charts. We did rounds and were assigned overnight duty in the Emergency Room. We attended autopsies and had intensive group sessions.

One of the more rigorous parts of C.P.E. was having our supervisor shadow us as we visited patients. Later in the day, he debriefed us on our bedside manner and our language. Until that experience, I had no idea how fast I talked, how much I interrupted people and how forcefully I directed the conversation. My supervisor’s word to me was “relax and listen.”

I’m still trying to remember and relearn those lessons. Because the question from Isaiah 40:6 is as relevant today as ever: “What shall I cry (say)?” What should I be saying (or not saying)? What is the message that I should bring? What is it that you and I should say in the circumstances in which we find ourselves? For some of us, the challenge is to not say too much. For others of us, the challenge is to share openly from our hearts. But for all of us, the deepest question is, what does God want us to say?

The two repeated words from Isaiah 40:1 is the answer: Comfort. As you prepare for worship this coming Sunday, reflect on this word “Comfort.” Where do you find comfort? Where do you expect comfort? Where do you need comfort? Where do you provide comfort?

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