Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where You Live....?

If you have followed me at all this summer (or in past summers) you know that we love to go to France every other summer for an extended vacation. We've been doing this since 2000. We love France. We love the landscape, the ancient architecture, the great breads, cheeses and wines. We love driving through the little roads up to the village in which we live.
But I'm sure there are some people here who do not see this area with the rose-tinted glasses I see it in. There are those who probably feel trapped in low-paying jobs, living in cramped conditions in a "backwater" village. There are probably many young people who can't wait to get out of here and on their own in a bigger city, with a job and a future.
When we talk to others as we wander around and they ask where we live and we say "Santa Barbara, California" the response is often "Oo-La-La! Santa Barbara!" They have seen the old TV series and know about our own natural beauty. Our good friends Yves and Marylene spent time with us in Santa Barbara last summer and consider it one of the most beautiful places on the earth and see this area of France as just normal.
And that's when it hit me: How do you see where you live: as normal, a privilege, a sentence, a burden, a beauty, an entitlement, or a calling? I thought about that for both France and Santa Barbara. Part of the beauty this place brings me is due to the release from responsibilities and the freedom to have every meal with Martha and no evening meetings! But I'm not called here. As I wrote in my journal...I'm not French in the slightest. I'm a visitor and a foreigner.
The deep beauty I find in California certainly is the weather and the ocean. But the deepest joy and beauty is the calling, the deep sense that God wants me to be a pastor here, now in this place. That sense of rightness about the calling brings beauty and privilege.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vacation: privilege or responsibility?

This is my office today. It's been my "office" for the last five weeks. The church I serve has graciously  allowed me to "bank" vacation time from one year into the next, so that when I leave for France, I'm able to be away for six whole weeks! That is so huge and is such a privilege!
But this summer I have been with pastors in both France and Egypt who do not have this luxury I have. I know pastors in Kenya and Congo who cannot imagine this kind of privilege. I have good friends back home who have high demand jobs in high-stress industries. There is no way they could ever be gone this long and still have a job when they get back! I'm aware of people who live from paycheck to paycheck, single parents and the working poor, for whom this kind of idea is almost nonsense.
A recurring observation I have beenmaking this summer, especially among the pastors I have had conversations with is how exhausted, depleted, distracted and beaten up they feel. During time is chaos and stress (like Egypt) they are constantly in demand, needed to pray, lead, and teach. When I asked on pastor how he finds refreshment, he said that in these extraordinary times it comes as a special grace from God. I believe him. He is not making excuses for an undisciplined life.
But for the rest of us, who have some control over our time, why don't we stop? Why don't we rest? Why are we always on and always available? One of the discoveries I made this summer is the "off" button. I'm on because I turn off the "off" button and make myself available. I'm on because I allow another meeting to be scheduled and another night to be taken up.
Last time I was in France God asked me a question: Why do you preach what you refuse to do? When I inquired what that was, God pointed me to sabbath rest. I have made myself over my 30+ years in ministry to important to take rest...sometimes not really believing God that I can stop and rest because my work is too demanding and too important.
Where will you rest? When will you rest? How will you rest?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Can't Afford to Relax

On the Friday before I preached in Cairo at Kasr el Doubara Church, we were having lunch on a restaurant/barge on the Nile in Cairo with Maggie and a long-time friend. Her friend is a committed believer within the Coptic tradition. One of her prayer-mentors was in the restaurant and she wanted us to meet this distinguished woman who has mentored other women in prayer for decades. The woman was at the restaurant with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. 
As they visited, the woman's adult daughter greeted me in flawless English. I asked about the condition of their church and how it was going. Without batting an eye, she gave me the sentence that has hung with me for the entire trip: "The church is alive today because it can't afford to relax!" She then went on to tell me that every Friday night at their church they have a prayer service with about 2,000 in attendance, mostly young people of high school and college age!
With all the issues and problems Egypt is facing, the church is vitally alive because of an internal urgency it has to be faithful...or die. The picture above was one I took after I preached and the lead pastor was leading the congregation in an extended time of singing and prayer. There was nothing boring about this worship....it was fervent and passionate because these worshipers know that they cannot afford to relax.
How relaxed is the American evangelical church? Where is our urgency? Do we have a spiritual urgency beyond meeting the budget? Do we know the real stakes of the battle or can we just wait a little longer, take our time, relax and think about it later? 
The young man who translated for me, during this time of worship and prayer...wept. He wept for his nation and he wept for the lost. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not to Hurry

Do you know where this is? It doesn't really matter. We just stopped our car, and stood looking at the beautiful view. I'm doing that a lot on this vacation; just stopping, looking and enjoying the view. I'm not really sure why I even wear a watch over here. I wake up when I do, make coffee, light a candle and read until Martha wakes up when she does. Our only clock driven reality is between noon and 2 pm when most stores and museums are closed. But that again means a longer lunch, a slow cup of coffee and a walk. 
This vacation more than any one before has reminded me of how much hurry has been in my life. I'm reminded how seldom have I stopped in the beautiful Santa Barbara and just lingered at the view (because, truth be told) I'm usually running late for the next thing. I'm grateful to a couple to friends (you know who you are!) who help me not hurry. 
But not hurrying for 3 weeks is deeply refreshing. What I am trying to figure out is what is the luxury dimension of a vacation like this, that imposes few schedule demands and what are transmittable truths that I can take back into my life and live with less hurry?

Sunday, June 10, 2012


 Today I was an observer in French political life.  Our older friends here needed a ride to the local city hall to vote in the election of representatives to the French Assembly (I don't have the nuances down quite!). Elections are held on Sundays, a universal day off in France. They greeted other citizens with cheek kisses (3 here) and went behind the green curtain to cast their votes.
It's humbling to see the democratic process in motion in another country when we know how fragile the whole voting process is around the world of emerging (or re-constituting nations). Then they walked back to the car and we drove to church together.
Church was particularly interesting for me today as it was Yves Pizant's final sermon before retirement from the Free Church of St. Jean du Gard. He is my first peer who is retiring and I was there to see how it happened, how he preached his "last" sermon.
It was amazingly unemotional and normal. He has served there for about 6 years and is much loved. The sanctuary sits above the parsonage and both buildings are from the 18th century. Yves' wife spent 9 years in the church when her father served it when she was just 3 months old. Two families devoted chunks of their lives to a congregation and very little was made of it. Maybe I expected more emotion (I know I had profound emotions for each of the churches I left to go serve another one.). Yves just got up there and preached from Romans 15 about the need to continue welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed us. And it was over. We went to downstairs to their home for a big family meal with their two daughters, two grandchildren and Marylene's father (former pastor there) and his wife. We ate for 3 hours and then us men went to Yves' study to watch the Paris Open together.
I guess the lesson I'm slowly learning is that what I observe is not necessarily what is going on. I did not observe a final sermon like I thought I would, there was something more there, something French, Huguenot, Free Church, and St. Jean du Gard. No slide shows, applause, tears, gifts, tributes, roasts or jokes. Just the church being the church on a rainy Sunday morning.

Back Yard Beauty

Saturday morning was a lazy day. I woke early to read and Martha some time later. After a relaxed breakfast, we began the litany: What do you want to do today? I don't know, what do you want to do today? Yes, we go through that back-n-forth still after 36 years! We decided we needed to go to the market (open-air) but that would take all of an hour. What next?
Then Martha suggested we go a back route to a little village we visited years ago: Goudarges. It has a stream that runs through the center of it stocked with trout. It's all of 3 blocks long nestled into the hills of the lower Cevenne.
It was the perfect sort of day: sunny without being too hot, minimal crowds and wonderful food! Our lunch took two hours. Nobody was in a hurry. And it was all in our own back yard.
It makes me wonder about how many other back yard beauties I miss at home in Santa Barbara: the hills, the trails, La Cumbra Peak, the butterfly preserve, etc?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Digital Vacation

I have traveled for years with two big items: camera gear and books. Not taking books to read or a camera to take pictures is inconceivable for me. My camera gear process began back in 1972 in Japan when I purchased a Canon FTB body and a 50 mm, 24 mm, 135mm lens. I added a tripod, cable release, flash and several adaptor lens. Over the years I switched camera bodies from film to digital, but kept an array of lens and tripod. That was one carry on bag. 
Then there were the books. No matter where I travel, I carry several books: a Bible (of course) a novel for relaxation, a non-fiction for growth, and then a Christian Classic or devotional/theological supplement. When we head off  to France, our books (Martha is a voracious reader as well) consumes great space and weight!
This year I took the leap and put everything (except my Bible) in digital form, left the camera equipment and stacks of books (goodbye friends!) for the iPad and iPhone. I did take a back-up digital camera I have used twice.
The advantage? I am traveling so light! No shoulder straps and bags of gear! I feel like I blend in more with the population not having an slr camera, but just pulling out the iPhone, shooting and putting it back. And the iPad? All my books, journals, magazines, newspapers and even games (I learned Angry Birds this summer from a little French 6 year old!). I'm not sure I will go back to all the stuff!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Martha's Dream Car

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

So Much History!

What amazes me about living here in France, is the historical overlap. Today, after a wonderful family birthday party, Martha and I took a long, leisurely walk through the city nearest us, Ales, France. It's not an impressive city. It's seen better days when it was a mining center. But now it's kind of dingy and well-worn.
In the center of town is an old castle-like structure. It was built in the 1200's and used by various occupying powers over the centuries. Today we walked up to the upper gate and saw this weather-beaten inscription. The German army used this castle to imprison and interrogate resistance fighters in WW II.

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