Friday, May 24, 2013

Minnesota sunset

Saturday, May 18, 2013


One of my favorite Sundays in the church year is tomorrow: Confirmation Sunday & Pentecost Sunday. The longer I pastor, the more I treasure the privilege of teaching Confirmation with Martha. The current confirmands and families delayed Confirmation Sunday till we returned from my sabbatical leave. Wow! That's an honor.
The text for Confirmation Sunday came to me in a devotional time in March in France: John 15:1-17. It is Jesus' instructions to the disciples to abide in him and his love and he promised to abide in them (us). That is the key! Over the long haul of pastoring I have personally watched those who abide...thrive. And I have sadly watched others wither away. Abiding or withering affects everyone in the church; from pastors and leaders to young people and new believers. A person chooses to stay connected to Jesus or not, it's that simple. The results are profound. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Sabbatical Reflections

            This sabbatical leave will make in indelible imprint on my life like few other trips ever have. First, I am incredibly grateful for a church like Montecito Covenant to “give me” three months paid leave with no agenda. I did not have to report of produce, just renew. That kind of soul-gift is so rare in our culture! I experienced that same generosity during my firs sabbatical in 2000 from Salem Covenant Church. So I begin these reflections with deep and abiding gratefulness!
            Sabbatical leave for me is less about accomplishing something, than about creating an alternative community. It’s about settling in to another place and another routine that rejuvenates and revives. For me (us) it is this little village in southern France we have been returning to over and over again since 2000. We have slowly accumulated deep and good friends, particularly the Pizant family (pictured above). I have found a French pastor/friend who understands me and whom I understand. We take trips together and have long meals and conversations (such as they are with his good English and my awful French).
            This alternative community brings its own patterns and routines, none of which involve my leadership, but rather, participation as a lay-person. I have worshiped in seven different congregations (all French speaking) over these last three months. I have been ushered into great worship without always understanding the words being spoken. I have been bored and distracted and also deeply moved.
            Sabbatical gave me a taste of open evenings every night after a long, lingering meal with Martha. I think that is the one thing I will miss the most, knowing that evening meetings are a necessity for churches and pastors today.
            I have lived watch-less since my battery died…and I’m OK. For those of you who know how time-obsessed I am, that’s a big deal. I’m actually wondering about not putting a watch back on again!
            The Bible, and especially this time, the Gospels have crackled to life for their own sake. I cannot get enough of just lingering for an hour or more in the life and stories of Jesus. I “fell of the wagon” for a couple of days (when the ATM card went goofy) and checked emails first. What a great way to destroy a prayer life for me. I need Bible and coffee before news, email, facebook or breakfasts with friends.
            But it’s time to go back.  Time to go back to what I love, to what I’m called to do and back to the community I love.

VE Day

            May 8 is not a big date in my holiday memory book. My holidays are Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and All Saints’ Day. May 8th doesn’t normally make the list. But today was a major holiday all over France. The schools are off, stores are closed, and banks are shut. It was not until I switched on a local TV station and saw the French and Polish Presidents standing side by side in a Paris parade, that I discovered today is Victory in Europe Day…V.E. Day. Oh yeah, when WWII stopped.
            Then Martha and I went for one of our late afternoon walks through our little village of maybe 1,000 people. There at the Mairie was the plaque honoring War dead: WWI and WWII and today it was covered with flags and a bouquet of flowers.
            What hits me over and over again in the little rural villages in France that we drive through is the immense loss of life in WWI. Look at the numbers! 43 young men from a village of maybe 1,000 and probably less, died in WWI. That’s the proportion I see everywhere I go: WWI dead way, way outnumber the WWII dead in France. It was a wholesale depopulation of rural France. And today those sacrifices are honored and remembered. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

ATM update

I blog complaints, but I also need to blog thank you's. After some weird days with no access to ATM cash, and some long telephone conversations with Union Bank, a new card arrived today, here in France via Fed Ex. I was able to immediately activate it on-line and get some much needed cash. I am grateful when institutions do work for the customer!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Glider Spirituality

On this sunny and lazy Saturday afternoon, the air is punctuated by the sound of a propellor plane pulling a glider in slow and lazy circles higher and higher over our area. Then the noise vanishes as the glider is released from the towing plane and silently spirals around in the sky and the propellor plane heads back to the airport (for yet another tow).
I sit fascinated by the site and am awed by the gracefulness of the glider in flight. But it could not get there without a tow (Oh, I know that there are some gliders with power sources, but most don't). The glider pilot is dependent on the propellor pilot to pull him up, higher and higher to do what the glider is meant to do.
I'm not self-propelled spiritually, but towed to any heights I ever reach. I am grateful for the "pilots" like my father, great teachers in both college and seminary, inspiring writers, a profoundly deep wife, a great colleagues and friends over the years who "pull" me up and help me glide. I am grateful for churches like the one I serve now, who trust me, challenge me, encourage me and love me.

Another Old Stone

            We were taking a new hike in a new area St. Jean de Valeriscle (try pronouncing that!). I had been in the village weeks ago with Yves Pizant who preached at a little Methodist Church there. Martha wanted to see the village and explore the area. We found signs that pointed to a trail, so off we went.
            We crossed a little stream, went through community gardens and up several switchbacks to abandoned railroad tracks. Just as we reached the tracks we saw a gravestone. What was a gravestone doing way out here along railroad tracks? So I took a picture of the inscription and had Yves Pizant translate it for us that night.
            It’s a memorial to a 16 year old local boy who was killed by “a traitor’s bullets” during WWII. The community did not want to forget, either the sacrifice or the ignomy.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Old Stones!

            It’s what I love most about France….tripping over the ancient. Today was a case in point. Martha and I are filling every day with as much travel and sites as possible for our last week. We drove a 120km circuit today up into the mountains and then down into valleys on roads that it would be generous to call two-lane.
            At the bottom of one valley, as we drove along a stream, Martha said that we had been here before and we would probably see an 11th century church called Notre Dame de Valfrancesque. It’s a small church built into a hillside out of dark blocks. It’s history is speckled with building, sacking, rebuilding, another war and more destruction, the French Revolution and it became a barn, until now. It is owned by a coalition of Reformed Protestants and Lutherans but restored in its Romanesque style.
            But a church has been on this site and in this valley since the 8th century. Tradition has it that Charles Martel went through this valley in one of his many military campaigns in the 8th century. Charles Martel, grandfather to Charlemagne and the one who fought the Battle of Tours stopping the tide of Islam into Europe. He was here! These are some old stones!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Union Bank

Our traveling has always been a bit of an adventure. Something unexpected always happens when have traveled to different countries. We routinely get lost. We have been robbed. We have experienced intestinal distress more than once. Flights have been delayed and crowds have turned ugly. But we have never been abandoned by our bank.
            Before leaving for a 3 month sabbatical, I spent time at our bank (Santa Barbara Bank & Trust) to set up on-line banking and inform them of ATM use in all the countries we would be visiting. The bank staff told me that the bank was being acquired by Union Bank during the time, but that I should notice nothing during the smooth transition. And I didn’t…until Monday April 30.
            I went to an ATM machine for a cash withdrawal and was denied. That happens occasionally, so I put the card away and later in the day went to a main-line French bank ATM and was again denied. Two times is unlikely, so I went on line that night with the Union Bank site. It was a maze of impossibility. I could not find who to ask about the problem. I sent out about 4 different emails requesting help on Monday night. Now, Thursday morning in my Union Bank message box was a note telling me that they had deactivated my old SBB&T ATM card for the new Union Bank ATM card, which I do not have because I am in France and they knew it.
            I tried finding an email to the Montecito SBB&T branch that I used to ask for help. It cannot be done. There are no email directories except to the main, Union Bank address. Gratefully we are staying with understanding friends, we have some cash, we have our credit cards and in 9 days we will be home. But until then we have been abandoned by the bank.
            What could they have done? Since they knew I was traveling, the could have emailed me ahead of time about the switch so I could have stocked up on cash. They could have sent the card in advance to our address in France (since they knew where I was and had email contact). Or they could have kept my card active until I returned. None of that happened. Is this the new customer care standard for Union Bank? I miss the old SBB&T personal connections. 

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