5.25.2004

I'm discovering a new addiction. Continually redesigning my blog and wrestling with the settings is maddening for the novice (that's me). So far I've changed the name and the look, but the look is giving me fits. If you're reading this and aren't sure you're in the right place, you are (I think).




I met with someone today whose made some positive faith changes in the last few months, but is still struggling with the experience of faith. It's not yet what he had hoped, but, perhaps, it shouldn't be. I told him that his personal experiences can't always be measured by those of others. His experience of faith may not look anything like mine or someone else's. I was just impressed and thrilled that he was still on the road, given some of the personal setbacks he's recently experienced. Detours abound.

It is refreshing to see someone struggling to stay on the road and in motion as opposed to someone who thinks they have arrived. This is in no way a comment on the people I deal with on a daily basis in my congregation. As with any congregation, and all of us, sometimes we are on the road; sometimes we are beside the road, sipping lemonade as if we've come to the end. Sometimes we've just stayed too long at the rest stop. There's grace for that. But there's grace for the pressing on, too.

My prayer is to press on with what God shows me. His goodness to me over the last week has been tangible and strong. A week away in Nashville, with friends, conversation and fresh ideas was wonderful. It was, in some ways, a rest stop. In other ways it was a wormhole to a new place in the mission. It was not, God willing, the end of any road. God, give me grace for the pressing on. Amen.

5.24.2004

Okay, I'm at home now and just finished catching up on some bills. Back to reality. Being home is great and sharing with Kim and others about what God did and is doing at emergent and the EC is fun. My biggest fear is that some of the intensity will take with it some of the enthusiasm when it wanes.

My preaching style was challenged. My emerging (sorry) view of the Kingdom of God was reinforced and strengthened and my calling to be where I am was affirmed. There are times when I wonder (as I did in an earlier blog) whether or not this community of faith can become the kind of community Jesus calls us to. And then there are times (like now) when I know that the reason I stay and slug it out is because deep down, somewhere, I believe it can. It might not look like what I have in mind and may not happen as quickly as I would like, but I've got to come to grips with that; got to be at peace with that.

One of the most powerful moments came for me toward the end of a workshop on the transformational mission of the Church led by Alan Roxburg. The title was "God is Always Found in the Most God-forsaken Places: a Theology of Missional Transformation". I was tired and was wondering where he was going for most of the seminar, even during the more interesting bits. I honestly thought at one point that he thought he was teaching a different seminar. And then, within about 10 minutes from the end, he made his move. Everything up until that time had been groundwork.

He walked us briefly through Scripture and showed us how God had worked in the past. Through Abram and Sarai (a wandering, old, nearly dead, nothing couple by worldly standards); through and in the Hebrews (a wandering, nothing people); Moses, Ruth, all the way to the womb of a poor, young virgin girl named Mary. You get the picture. Everywhere God worked in a major way in Scripture was a nowhere place with nowhere people. They were not successful by worldly standards and values. They were, to use his term, "God-Forsaken Places" and people. That is to say, they were not the people and places the religious establishment would have picked for God to move.

And then he asked us in the midst of our success-oriented culture and church-culture, where were the successful places? They are the church plants, the new churches who enjoy enthusiastic success. And, he continued, where are the "God-forsaken places" today in the church culture? The answer? The older, established, "dead" churches. I almost fell out of my chair. And then I almost jumped up to shout "Hallelujah!" Imagine shouting praises to God at the top of your lungs when someone's just told you that you serve in a God-forsaken place.

The God-forsaken places are those places that, by worldly standards, are without hope. They are not the places where the most success happens, easily, if at all. These, he said, are the places God will be doing the next new thing on his agenda. It was a powerful affirmation that, although it isn't easy, although I have my doubts and frustrations, this was the place I needed to be. This was and is the place where God is doing and will do a new thing. My "God-forsaken place" is the nowhere place and people through which God will act. Amazing.

5.21.2004


Jay blogging at Provence
Posted by Hello

Jay did me the favor of showing me how to do this and then did me the "favor" of posting MY picture on his blog. I returned the favor. Needless to say, this is not the most attractive picture of Jay.

Shortly afterward we joined Kay and went out to eat before the evening workshop. We all attended a workshop on preaching by Doug Pagitt. We all were kept awake and came away thoroughly ready to toss in our styles of preaching. It was convicting, humiliating and inspiring all at once -- to realize that we are not doing all that we could to nourish the communities we pastor and that there is another way, an emerging way of doing so with a new preaching paradigm -- or not so new, really. I think Jesus sometimes did something similar. Imagine.

On another note, while we were blogging away at the cafe (almost rhymes), we met another blogger, completely unrelated to the many I've met this week. He identified himself as "the homeless guy" and his site is now on my sidebar. I found him interesting as a homeless man involved in the plight of the homeless in Nashville, a man who chooses to be homeless himself. Yet, he brings his laptop to the cafe and blogs away. I look forward to reading him from time to time.


Jim Wallis and Me
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So, it's late afternoon in Nashville and Jay and I are at a local cafe, where he's teaching me the finer arts of blogging. I'm trying. I really am. You see, the thing is, while I've enjoyed especially the workshops and seminars at emergent, what's been utterly fascinating is the people I've met. Jay's friends, "the bloggers" have been especially inspiring. So, you guessed it, I want to be one.

One of the things Jay has taught me to do is diplay a picture. Above is a picture of Jim Wallis and me on the first day of emergent.

The general sessions have, in some ways, been lacking. I think too much has been tried and too much attention to being edgy at the expense of worship. This isn't the case with every session, but, as I said, the workshops and the people have been worth it. Not to mention a week off from preparing a sermon. The irony is that since I don't have to prepare a sermon I'm getting lots of ideas for several sermons. Oh well.

5.20.2004

I was too tired last night to write. Emergent has been great so far, but there is much to choose from. I was part of a discussion on the multicultural church yesterday. It was good and a reminder that there is ever more to learn about the challenges and presuppositions of wanting that kind of church.

For instance, I was remdinded that, not only do we have to ask what 400 years of slavery has done to the African-American population in the US; we have to ask what 400 years of slavery has done to us, the white oppressors who have learned (rather well) to be in control over others. I've never thought about that before.

Another angle: when we whites seek cultural diversity we know that it will enrich us. But the suggestion was made that it does not, necessarily, enrich the African-American Church, for instance. The church in the African-American community is where blacks experience community with one another; everywhere else in the world, quite often, they experince diversity. This holds true for Asians and Latino's as well. If this is the case, then, when we invite them to take part in our cultural and ethnic diversity, they are impoverished, while we are enriched. Humbling.

5.18.2004

So, I'm sitting downstairs in my friends' dining room in a suburb of Nashville typing and checking email and discovering new websites I've never heard of before. I'm here staying with Jay and Kay for a few days while attending the Emergent Conference in downtown Nashville. The conference doesn't officially start until tomorrow, for me anyway, but it's refreshing just to be here, away from the phone, chatting with friends.

I ran across the "church of fools" website and I'm amazed at the idea of a 3D virtual, interactive church service. There you can have community. There you can meet people from all over the world, you can hear preaching, sing songs, pray, cross yourself, bless others -- wait a minute, isn't that what real church should be?

The site was set up last week and visitors could have rather free range of the place. They could go incognito or they could assume a character and wander around, get behind the pulpit, stand up and shout in the middle of the sermon, whatever they wanted to do. If they wanted to sin, let's just say, they could sin boldly.

As a result, some of the rules have already been changed. You can no longer wander up around the altar and get behind the pulpit. There is an invisible barrier to prevent it. While I was wandering around I heard several conversations that were, shall we say, rather uncalled for. Racial remarks were made about people of color in the church and one character demanded cybersex on the spot. You try to set up a place for community and human beings foul it up, just like real life. Enough of that kind of behavior and the "church wardens" will come and escort you out of the building.

The plus the cyber version has over the real one, though, is that at any time during my visit I simply had to click on the "X" to get out of there. I haven't found a way to do that in real life. I just have to wade through the conflict and issues as best I can; I just have to sweat out the discipline of community and wait for the hoped-for pay-off. Or, occasionally, I go away for a conference in Nashville.

5.12.2004

It has happened again. I’m standing there, talking with people from the church and someone brings up a complaint that I honestly cannot believe is important enough to even mention. It is so trivial that it makes me want to vomit when I hear it. So what if the church sign didn’t get changed for a couple of weeks after Easter.

This was at a funeral home, just moments before the service. After the service, as we are filing out in our cars to the cemetery, I’m thinking to myself about this brief exchange. And I begin to wonder if a people (admittedly, only a few of them) sees such things as that important, can they ever become a true, loving community of faith? Is what I hope God does here just a dream, a fantasy? I start to feel that my time in a traditional church is limited; that there is no way God will be able to take the hearts of these people and make them new; that the wineskins are about to burst and both the wine and the skins will be lost.

This is a very frustrating feeling, really. And before we’re half way to the cemetery, I’m ready to conduct an entirely different graveside service. I’m ready to bury the whole congregation, at least emotionally. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust; crap to crap. Just forget it and let’s get on with something new. Amen.”

But then another event comes to mind: our last Ash Wednesday service, nearly three months ago. I stand at the front of the church holding a bowl of ashes in my hand. One by one people file down the center isle. One by one they stop just in front of me; one by one I tell them, “From dust you have come; to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

One by one they file forward and as the number of foreheads upon which I sign the cross grows, I become overwhelmed. Why are these people here for such an archaic expression of faith? Why do they bother coming forward for this? It doesn’t make sense. But it did make sense. It made perfect sense. They came because they understood, on some very basic and vital level, their need for a Savior. They grasped their need to repent and they came forward.

And, along about a third of the way through that line of penitent people, I remember that I love these people. I love them. I love them enough, by the grace of God, to want them to find the grace they were apparently crying out for that night. I love them and it dawns on me that I am thankful for them and for the fact that I have been called to be their pastor.

By the time I get to the cemetery, I’m ready to hang on for a little while longer before chucking it all. I’m ready to believe again that real transformation can actually happen, even here, even among these people, even in me. Amen.


5.10.2004

I am at a crossroads. I am tired of thinking about the future. I want to dwell in the now. I want to experience God and community now, not plan on experiencing it in the future, sometime.

For months I’ve been thinking about launching a program on purpose and vision within the congregation. It’s seemed as if it’s been coming at me from various directions; it’s seemed as if God was saying, “go and do this program; get it into your schedule; this will work.” But now, I’m just tired of even thinking about it, really. I don’t want to go that way, personally or corporately. I’m not sure I was hearing God after all. How embarrassing.

We’re all tired. We all lack resources. We need to experience God and community, but we’re tired of trying to figure out how to do that. I’m ready to ditch everything we’ve ever tried or are continuing to try. I’m ready to dynamite everything and start over. I just don’t have the guts.

5.06.2004

Do we really need all the seminars and stuff? Do we need it? Is all this training and programs and forty days of purpose really what God had in mind when he poured out his Holy Spirit on Pentecost? I don't know.

I know I'm glad I have all of these things to draw on. I know that sometimes having such tools so readily available is a real blessing. But, still, something deep inside of me wants to shout out, "This should be EASIER than it is!" We shouldn't have to have all these books and tapes and seminars and surveys. We should be able to learn to follow Jesus, live the life, love one another, build authentic community and watch God work. Or, better yet, work WITH God.

The list of things I as a pastor should be thinking about and planning just seems endless. How much of this would cease if I let go of the idea that we needed to grow and add programs? How much of what we plan and do truly advances God's reign on earth?

5.04.2004

All of my preaching during the season of Easter so far has been on the nature of the Kingdom of God. It has been a very difficult topic, to say the least. I think I understand why Jesus spent so much time teaching on it. I mean, if I find it difficult to grasp, how much more so for the original disciples? I’ve got 2,000 years of teaching, writing and thinking on the topic. They did not.

It occurs to me that we run the risk of dancing all around the edges of the Kingdom, learning about the Kingdom, but not exactly where to find it or how to live in it.

All I know is, at this point in my life, I don’t think I’ve really found it. I think I am one who has danced around the edges, caught glimpses of it now and then, perhaps even waded in its waters a couple of times. But I’ve not lived it like I truly believe it can be lived. Am I looking for something that simply doesn’t exist?

I know that to expect to find in the here and now the Kingdom in its fullness is wrong. I know that is something that will only be brought about at the Consummation of all things under the headship of Christ. I accept that. But I long for more of it here and now. I long to be better at living it out and at living it out in the company of others who are passionate about it as well.

Sorry for the corny closing, but it’s true: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…