Saturday, January 25, 2014

Where Do You Belong?

I am packing for a trip back to Chicago and the annual Covenant Midwinter Conference. My attendance has been, at best, spotty over the past several years due to sabbatical travel last year and budget the year before. It's really a pilgrimage of sorts for Covenant pastors from around the country and world. We camp out in a huge hotel and linger in hallways catching up with old colleagues, friends and professors (who can be friends as well!).
It's a time for marking progress or regress, success or failure, joys and losses. Midwinter has been a part of my life since childhood, since my dad was a Covenant pastor. I remember Midwinters in St. Paul, Minnesota and house-guests who stayed with us the whole week, only getting their lunch at the church. It was a different day then.
Some of my colleagues have moved into administrative roles, using their accumulated professional skills as elders and advisors. Others are marking their 2nd and 3rd decade in the same church and wondering about legacy. Some have stayed in the same region of the country while others have crisscrossed the USA if not the world.
"How are things going in ____________?" will be the ubiquitous question asked over and over again. I used to answer that with numbers (attendance, membership, budget, staff) or programs (outreach, mission, youth) but now I'm not quite sure what markers to use other than "It's where I belong and fit for now."
Belonging has always been one of those evasive words for me, being a pastor's kid who grew up in two different parsonages in two different states. I have no doubt that my dad obeyed God's call in his life. As I grew older he would narrate how he discerned God's call to leave a place, go to a place or stay in a place. It was never about geography (though I doubt if he could ever imagine God wanting him on the West Coast), climate, size of church or paycheck. It was about diving in and serving a church until it was time to move.
Belonging also gets very local with people. With what groups and persons to you find yourself belong? Does it always stay parallel to your age cohort? In this culture and time I see very narrow lines of belonging: men's groups, women's groups, young mom's groups, high adventure groups. And while not bad, they are so homogenous.
This past week I visited with an 80+ woman and a couple who have been married close to 60 years. I asked both the woman and the couple what they were learning at this point in life and their responses were priceless. Their responses gave me hope and courage to lean ahead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


My friend Dave in Minnesota coined a term “house blind”. When I asked him what that term meant, he said that for men like him, if an object remained in the same place in the house for more than three days, it belonged there and he became blind to it. If he left his pair of shoes next to a chair, after three days, he no longer saw his shoes. Dave told me his condition was especially chronic with socks. I think he morphed the “house blind” term into “sock blind” as well because he was so terrible about leaving socks around the house.
         Now I’m not advocating for a new quasi-medical term, but it is interesting about what we see and what we don’t. What catches your attention and what do you miss altogether? What do you see clearly and crisply, and to what are you often “blind”? We “see” far more than material objects. We see trends and moods; we see momentum or stagnancy. We see joy and we see despair.
         The text for Sunday is all about the blind seeing and the seeing going blind. Read the story from John 9:1-41 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hear Well?

            I am amazed by the things I can hear and not hear. I can hear the difference between a Harley Davidson and Ducatti motorcycle and love their distinct sounds. My ears perk up at the sound of exotic luxury car exhaust sounds. I hear the sounds of helicopter blades and look up into the hills for smoke. There are certain musical sounds that fill my eyes with tears. And the sounds of my granddaughters laughing bring me deep, deep joy.
            But then there are other sounds I don’t hear so well. When the clothes dryer beeps, it’s often Martha who is the first to respond. When some news celebrities launch vitriolic critiques of this thing or that, I stop listening.  When I hear a succession of sporting scores, I routinely forget most of them. And, unless I concentrate, when I meet a new person and hear her name, I can often forget it to my embarrassment.
            Why do we hear what we hear and not hear what we don’t hear? Sometimes it’s a physical condition in our ears. But other times it’s because we are too busy talking to do any listening. Other times we are so distracted we have a hard time paying attention. One web site I visited said there are three modes of listening:
1.              Combative listening
2.              Attentive listening
3.              Reflective listening
As you prepare for worship this Sunday, take a personal listening audit. How well do you listen as you worship? What do you listen for or listen to? What do you avoid hearing?


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Missing Church

I’m waiting for church. I’m waiting for a Taize service to begin soon. I have no leadership role at all. I’m hearing them rehearse and am eager, hungry and ready. You see, I missed church today. Martha and I were up north in a remote area called Bonny Doon where I officiated at a wedding of a church girl last night and Martha helped a friend “do” the flowers. Do you know what “doing’ flowers means? Lots and lots and lots of work. They worked about two days getting bouquets and arrangements ready and the result was spectacular.
But “doing” flowers also means cleaning up flowers and all the gear as the rental folks arrived, the tent people arrived, and all the hidden business of making weddings happen. So, since I was no longer the officiating pastor with an important job, I was drafted to help clean up, pick up, and pack up. By the time we were done it was almost 11:00 a.m. and I had no clue where a church was. Oh, I did not mention that the site did not have cell phone reception or wifi for two days!! So we had no idea where local churches were.
I’m not a legalist. It’s OK with God to miss church. I’m not saved or holier for attending church. But I missed worship. Martha and I talked later today and cannot remember when we last missed Sunday worship. When we travel, we always budget church and worship into the schedule. But today it did not happen and something is missing for me.

So I wish 7:00 p.m. would hurry up and I could go to church!

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