Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicago Sunset

Elise at 1 week

Welcome to Chicago

Oh it's good to be back in the grey, windy city! The noise of street and air traffic, the smell of diesel and jet fuel is totally urban. It's cold while not too cold. After my second cup of coffee and showering it's time to register and reconnect with colleagues and old friends....and Luke

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Playground Work Day

Why I love this church! Today is the re-scheduled work day for the new playground. It's a dirty job of shoveling wood chips out down to the dirt to prepare the site for the installation of the new equipment. Who showed up? Other than the former Children's Ministry Director, members and friends who have no little children at home. None of the volunteers today will directly benefit from the work. It's not about them, but others! I couldn't get them all in the picture because they were moving too fast and did not want credit anyway. It's about the kids, not them. What's not to love about a church like this?

Staying Fresh

A friend asked me how I keep enjoying being a parish pastor for so long? That question, in itself, made me pause. Is it that long? I guess both time and age become increasingly relative over the years. I don't think of myself as either old or long-timer. But I guess when I do the math and start counting post-seminary pastoring years, it's soon 32 and if I add the part-time youth pastoring/interning years, it's 36! Yikes!
So what's worked? Here is a list of things that work over the long haul:
1. Keeping the daily devotional well clear and fresh
2. Prayer
3. Read (current and dead people)
4. Have a couple of good friends
5. Expect sabotage
6. Learn to lose graciously and let it go
7. Be OK with being wrong (correctable)
8. Learn to negotiate
9. Play regularly
10. Learn new things
11. Find "reverse mentors" (younger people who can teach you)
12. Don't take yourself too seriously
13. Be open to and critique all new church trends
14. Practice personal sabbath rest
15. Cultivate generosity (tithe to the local church you serve)
16. Embrace interruptions
17. Critique your own personal entitlements
18. Always be open to change
19. Say thank you without needing to get credit
20. Take vacations away

Monday, January 23, 2012

Morning Glory

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Experiencing Generational Shift

There it was. My wife holding the daughter of my son, whom my wife held some 30+ years ago! Yikes! It happened. The generations go on. Isaac and Anna became a married couple and now have become a family with all mystery, baggage, chaos and joy that goes with that. Priceless!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Being Grandfather

Some changes are gradual and others seismic. I monitor changes in me with interest and sometimes sadness. I am changing, aging, maturing, curmudgeoning, extending and exploring. Watching the changing in me in our move to California has been delightful. Observing the changes as our children married and became distinct, spiritual entities is so much fun! Enjoying a new routine and pattern as empty-nesters is also fun (we love hiking together!).
And when Anna announced that she was pregnant, I prepared myself for becoming a grandfather. I listened more to other friends who are grandfathers. I thought of my own grandfathers and who they were to me. Then the call came on Thursday that Anna was going in for induction Friday morning. We left early afternoon and drove south to San Diego. There were challenges in the labor. Then the call came that they were doing a C-section. Silence. No news. Prayer in the car. Waiting.
The phone buzzed...there was a video of a squirming, crying little girl. Instantly I was a grandfather (Martha a grandmother) and it was not about us any more (as if it ever really was!). Isaac and Anna are parents (talk about floods of memory of our own experiences three times) and they were making all the big, early decisions well. Our job: to watch, pray, support and not get in the way. Whew! What a ride!
Off to the hospital.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Mornings have their issues! Like cold floors, love of warm blankets and sleep and the issues a new day brings. But today..there was light, streaming across the living room onto the dining room table, exploding and refracting on the candlesticks. Epiphany!

Preparing for a Playground

We are getting a brand new children's playground here at MCC! Through a generous donation from a couple I never met, a large gift was given with the intention that it be used for children. So the Director of Children's Ministry and her Ministry Team searched out option and interviewed playground companies, bringing their recommendation to the staff and then council. It will be so sweet; safe surface, age appropriate equipment, and fun and active. It will send the right signal about the priority children have here.
But....the old equipment had to be removed, an old, rusty fence removed, and deep concrete footings extracted. Our sexton, Tom Shank, has done superb work sawing off fence pieces and tediously digging out cement footings. Right now, the site looks like a war zone (or an invasion by very large gophers!). And we are not done yet. The other set needs to be removed (no footings) and all the bark chips from 20 years need to be shoveled out by a volunteer crew next Saturday. So, as bad as it looks now, it will look worse.
That's what good preparation does; it makes a mess. Preparing to paint, plant, move, or loose weight takes work and sweat and mess. I think my life often looks more like the photo above than the new. safe surfaced playground. But hope makes me believe their is purpose behind the mess, that God is at work digging and tilling, removing and scraping for his new plans. So, keep on digging Lord!

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK: my story

I was 15 years old. I lived for myself and my pleasures: skiing, biking, swimming, cars and girls (in that order of success!). St. Paul was a lily white community. My dad was the senior pastor of one of the largest Covenant Churches in the denomination at that time (1st Covenant St. Paul). The Jr. High I went to (Cleveland) was almost totally white. I paid little attention to the news and do not recall hearing or watching news about Dr. King's assassination.
What I recall is this; my dad told me he wanted me to go with him to an important Sunday evening service at the St. Paul Cathedral. When I asked him why, he said that someone really important to the world and to the Christian faith was killed and he was going to pay his respects. I so revered my dad, that I knew this was a big deal. So that night in 1968 I rode with my dad to a church to honor Dr. King. So memories of Dr. King are always through the lens of my father.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On Following

Sunday is the third in a series of sermons based on the phrase: It's Time. Using the "B"lectionary Gospel texts, we saw how Simeon was able to say "Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace." Last week we explored Jesus' baptism in Mark 1:4-11 and God's beginning words to him "You are my Son, whom I love, in you I am well pleased." We reflected on what it means to have God declare our identity, his love for us, and his pleasure in us.
This coming Sunday, the text comes from John 1:43 "Follow me" Jesus declares to Philip. How I love to lead and how I resist following! One of the costs of preaching a text like this is taking a deep and hard look at my own spirit of independence and a desire to lead, not follow. But looking at all the places where Jesus uses that phrase makes a pretty deep impression:

Matt 4:19/Mk 1:17

“Come, follow me, and I will send you to fish for people.”

Matt 8:22/Lk 9:59

“Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”

Matt 9:9/ Mk 2:14/ Lk 5:27

“Follow me” (to Matthew)

Matt 10:38

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matt 16:24/ Mk 8:34/ Lk 9:23

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

Matt 19:21/ Mk 10:21/ Lk 18:22

“If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me.”

Jn 1:43

“Follow me” (to Philip)

Jn 10:27

My sheep listen listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Jn 12:26

“Whoever serves me must follow me.”

Jn 21:19

“Follow me” (to Peter on the beach)

Jn 21:22

“You must follow me” (to Peter asking questions about others)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Confession of a Constant Critic

I am critical. That's my confession. I can critique, scrutinize, analyze and suggest improvements for just about everything (and everyone). That can be a good skill when collared and controlled and it can be a virus when it runs rampant.
In preparation for an Ignatian Prayer Retreat, I have been re-reading "The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius" again. What I'm discovering over and over again is that the retreatant is guided to self-critique vs other (outside) critique. We are instructed to look inward and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in order to follow Christ with more abandon and joy. But that means taking a long, slow look at my own interior. Frankly, I'd rather critique your performance and behavior than look at myself.
I'm wondering today if there is a corollary between self-critique and other-critique? To the degree that I concentrate on my own following (or lack of following) of Christ, I am not so concerned about your behavior. And to the degree that I focus in on others around me allows me to avoid paying attention to my own interior condition. So the challenge I offer (me and you) for today is voice no criticism of anyone else. See what happens.

Friday, January 06, 2012

It's Time...for Baptism

I was drawn to the ocean again this morning! The surf is higher than normal and it was high tide. The waves hit the break wall and splashed almost onto the sidewalk. Talk about power! But, then again, you know that, living here in Santa Barbara with the ever-present ocean reminding us of the power of water.

The text for this coming Sunday is Mark 1:4-11, where Jesus enters the waters of baptism to begin his public ministry. We will be returning to the waters of baptism to rediscover its power in our lives. If you have not been baptized, this might be the time to consider talking to me, Jon or Lisa about your own baptism some time soon. If you have been baptized, this will be a great Sunday to renew your own baptismal vows.

January abundance!

Morning Surf

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Air Fish

Ordinary Blessing

Taking down decorations is a lot less fun than putting them up. At the beginning of Advent we held a "hanging of the greens" Saturday and lots of folks showed up to cut greenery, bundle sprigs, decorate the tree and set up angels.
Today we called for a "stripping of the greens" event, no knowing who would show up. A wonderful group of members and staff showed up and took the tree apart, hauled out branches and packed away ornaments. Then we ate a lunch that Sandi put together out on the patio. What happened was lots of laughter, story-telling and love! I hated to see the lunch end so soon, but it was that glimpse of genuine fellowship that included everyone.
It was a good day to be a pastor!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012 Vision

Yesterday Martha and I hiked Cold Spring Trail that began at about 800 feet above sea level and went up to 1600 feet before looping around and back down again. At the top of the trail we walked along a cleared fire break road and came to this vista. Out in front of us was the ocean covered by a marine layer of clouds that crept up onto the beach and lower village. For those below, the day was cold and foggy with little to see. For us, it was hot and clear and gorgeous. It all depended on the elevation.

May your 2012 have sufficient elevation to see the beauty!

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