Friday, February 27, 2009

Five Forks

The RevGals gave us a good Friday Five today. I just hope I'm up for the challenge. So without further ado here it is:

I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?

1. Visalia: After college I was looking to do youth ministry in my hometown where I knew where "stuff" was while I figured out what a youth minister does. Instead God drove me to the wilderness of CA where I knew nothing. It was there that I learned it was OK to go so far away from home. It was there that I was affirmed in my call and my leadership potential.

2. Dawn: As I entered seminary I was very single, but had no interest in any of the women if for no other reason than who would want to deal with being a clergy couple? That sounded like a nightmare. Then I met Dawn and I couldn't get her out of my head. A year and a half later I was done with seminary and we were getting married. Now that she is done with seminary it is going to be a headache figuring out the clergy couple part, but chasing after her may be the best choice I ever made.

3. Andrew: He will be six months in a couple of days. In some ways this parenthood is all too knew to properly reflect upon. Those who are parents know that it changes everything, but I can't really explain how. It is awesome. He is awesome. Who knew that a smile, cackle, or spit bubble could so easily melt away all of the other stresses weighing you down for the day. I now see the world in a whole new way.

4. Byron: In many ways it was a wonderful place for my first call. I had a supportive senior pastor, some great people, and we were in between my family and the in-laws... and we were in commuting distance of seminary for Dawn. We had an awesome text study where I believe I made some lifelong friends. On the other hand there were a number of people often worked against me, even launching some very hurtful personal attacks. I didn't realize how very hurt I was until I got here and have been loved intensely and I have felt the healing in profound ways.

5. Dad: I wasn't sure where to go with this last one, but I think I have to give it to my Dad. I watched him as I grew up playing with us kids, a regular at church, and running all the time. So I guess I have to give him some credit for influencing my desire to play with Andrew and winding up working in the church (before it goes to his head there were others as well). However, the nod goes to him here because of the running. I watched him run somewhere in the neighborhood of 30+ marathons. While it's been a struggle to run in recent years the desire is deeply ingrained in me. I have completed 11 marathons now myself. Running has also led me to my newest passion and that's coaching. It seems that every year I've had the opportunity to coach I've started enjoying it even more. Just over a week and a new track season begins!

I don't know if I clearly answered the challenge on this one. I think each of these people or places changed me for the better. I'm sure there are things that have changed me for the worse, but they just didn't come to mind this morning. If you've got some life changing "forks" I'd love to hear about those as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Delicate Balance of Optimism

I've been watching various people over this past week talk about our current economic crisis. (Honestly, I don't think you can avoid it if you watch the news.) On the one hand I heard a few people talking about how we've lived off false optimism for too long. If there was one thing President Bush was good at it, was remaining confident, or at least projecting confidence, throughout whatever we faced. (Might we call that a theology of glory in the church?) At the same time that became a problem because it led many to deny reality. Consequently we started living beyond our means. I've heard that we were living, on average, at 107% of our income. No budget can sustain that for any length of time.

Now, more recently, I've heard that big flaw from President Obama is that he hasn't projected enough optimism. His staff is arguing that he is trying be realistic (Might we call that a theology of the cross in the church?) in the face of uniquely difficult times. Yet, it seems more than anything the stock market NEEDS an injection of positivity and hope that we will recover from this rough patch.

I honestly don't know what the solution is, but it does seem clear that there is a fine line between healthy optimism and overconfidence. I have faith that our leadership can walk that line... especially if folks take a head to Gov. Schwartzenager's words on "This Week with George Stephanopolous" where he talked about there being a time to toe the party a line and a time to step out from that for the good of the people you're serving.

What Do You Do With Ash Wednesday?

I think Ash Wednesday poses an interesting conundrum for the church, or at the very least my preaching. On the one hand we have the Jesus preaching in Matthew about not being "showy" about our faith, but to live out our faith as if only God were watching (my paraphrase). Then on the other hand we put these big smudges of ash on our foreheads showing the whole world how very religious we all are. It feels to me like on the one hand we are telling people not to act "this" way and then turn around say we will now live our our faith "this" way. What do you think? How do we avoid making Ash Wednesday Worship a service of contradiction?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life in the Valley

My wife grew up in Southwestern Wisconsin where everybody lives either "on the ridge" or "in the valley." I've been thinking about that as I think about our Transfiguration Gospel for this coming week. In our story for this week we see a couple of disciples go up to the mountain top where they see the glory of the Son of God. Yet, isn't the true glory as they come down the mountain? As the venture into the valley and they continue life, life in community, that is where the true glory of Christ is revealed.

Here, let's look at it a slightly different way. Transfiguration Sunday is the Sunday that leads into Lent. On the other end of Lent is another "mountain" top, where Christ is crucified. Lent, becomes the valley between two mountain tops. On the one end we have the mountain top we want and on the other is the mountain top we need. In between lies a life of ups, downs, and suffering which ultimately leads us to the cross. In that valley, leading us to the cross, lies a community that walks with us to the cross. Now isn't that really true glory?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Challenge with Change

Being in a new location, a new call, you can't help but think about change. I'm experiencing all kinds of change living and interacting with all kinds of new people. I look around at the ministry we're doing here and I see things I want to change. I know I can't change it all at once, and I also know I need to be smart about how we might go about change. I know we can't just change for change sake, but at the same time I realize it is much easier to suggest change than to have it suggested.

You see, one of the great challenges in proposing change is that it can very easily be heard as invalidating what has been done in the past. Say for instance you move into a new house and you suggest that you need to change the 70's shag carpet. The previous owner just might hear that as their choice of carpet was a bad choice. At the time it was probably a good choice, but now there are options that might work a little better for the current needs. If I were to suggest we change the way we worship or do a certain program might not the same thing happen? Might it be heard that what they are doing was a "bad" choice. It isn't at all a "bad" way of doing it, but it might be time for an update... and I'm really trying to help and not tear down.

Now, if I can just learn to hear that in my personal life. How might things go differently if I didn't hear Dawn's suggestions of doing things a different way not as a personal attack but an honest effort to help?... sometimes it's easier to ask others to change than to change yourself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Business As Usual

Is anybody else tired of watching the news talk about the attempts to get a stimulus bill passed? I admit I had hope that this might go a little differently this time. We had elected new leadership and more importantly we are facing a serious situation with our economy. I thought maybe it was a serious enough situation that politicians might be able to set aside some of their fierce party loyalty and compromise a little. Both sides of the aisle have ideas for the stimulation package that are going to make a difference as well as ideas that are limited in this current state of financial crisis. Yet what it largely seems to be is the Democrats writing the bill the way they want it to be and the Republicans refuting all points until they get one that looks exactly like the one they want. So isn't there a middle ground? Why can't these people change and learn to work together?

I suppose I should know better as a Christian. Isn't that why the church is still in business, peoples stubborn refusal to change their behavior? When was the last time you read a story from the Bible and couldn't relate it to something or someone today? The bible is filled with stories that are thousands of years old, stories that have been told and written down to help us change our behavior. So maybe we need to worry more about the plank in our own eye than the speck in theirs... although I do still wish more political talk would center around the actual ideas and less around fiercely loyal party lines.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Today we'll see on a number of news programs a big deal made about Puxatony Phil seeing his shadow and what sort of implications that will have on our winter. It is kind of a fun tradition, although having lived most of my life in MN and now in WI it also seems a little silly. Honestly? We'll have at least six more weeks of winter. We are nowhere near being done.

Last year, with Lent beginning so early, it was even more appropriate though. You see this annual tradition reminds me of another shadow as well, the shadow of the cross. As Christians we live in the shadow of the cross. During the season of Lent we are intensely aware of that, but in reality it is all year round that we live below the shadow of the cross. It is what Christ did for us on the cross that shapes who we are, what we do, and how we see the world. It is the great irony of the faith that in the cross, in death, that we find life. We must ultimately die to our old selves so that we may be raised again to new life in Christ.

To live in the shadow of the cross is to know that it is all about Jesus. To live in the shadow of the cross is to be reminded that there is suffering in this life and that God walks with us in that suffering, that where there is suffering there is God. To live in the shadow of the cross is to be called to love and serve our neighbor. To live in the shadow of the cross is to live in the reality of life; even when it might be stark, harsh, or difficult; a reality that is grounded in love.