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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Must See

I just spent a half hour enjoying the preview to a new Ken Burns series starting tomorrow on PBS: The National Parks: America's Best Idea. You can download the preview for free from Amazon (actually, PC owners can download it; as a faithful Mac owner, I only got to watch it. Whatever.)

I have known about this upcoming series for months and had it marked on my calendar. Complete nerd -- and proud of it. I am beyond excited that it's finally here. I have visited a national park every year since 1999. I am so grateful that I stumbled into this decision. I plan on continuing this habit for the rest of my life. I have gotten to go Yosemite, Sequoia, Olympic, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Acadia, Rocky Mountain, Mt. Rainier... and one unique adventure into the Canadian National Park in Banff. Each one defines the word "breathtaking" in its own unique way.

Even better, I have stunning memories that escape description. Where do I start? I can still picture and feel these moments...

An early morning with a cup of coffee in Glacier, watching a beaver build a dam.

A lunch break on a long hike to Gunsight Pass, where a mountain goat tried to steal my sandwich.

A night during a backpacking trip where the winds blew so hard down the mountain that our tent was uprooted and we were nearly blown into the lake off of a cliff.

A climb with over 70 switchbacks up Upper Yosemite Falls, where I felt like I'd climbed Everest -- only to find a man at the top with a full backpack AND a mountain bike strapped to the backpack, boulder hopping!

Hiking on perfectly flat ground for 9 miles along a river in a rainforest in Olympic National Park. And camping for the night on a gravel bar to the sound of rushing water on either side.

A piping hot meal of tortellini alfredo after hiking all day.

On the trail for hours with no need to talk.

S'mores at night.

Ranger talks. Kids with flashlights. Junior Ranger badges.

Staring at the fire, then up at the stars.

The altitude taking my breath away at the summit of the Trail Ridge Road -- 12,000' in elevation -- at Rocky Mountain National Park.

The peaks. The peaks. The peaks.

The feeling of a hot shower after backpacking.

The silence.

It amazes and thrills me that we can have such easy access to pristine scenery, time and time again, for so little cost. I know I sound like a commercial. But it blows me away that we have the National Parks. Yes there is traffic and yes there are ridiculous RV'ers with satellite dishes and generators and yes there are loads of tourists taking photos of squirrels... deal with it. Push through it all and just enjoy the privilege.

Enjoy the series on PBS. Then plan on going - year round, they are incredible.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Listen for God's Whisper

I spent all day on the couch today with a horrendous sore throat, earache, swollen glands, no energy, the whole nine yards. I was flattened with some sort of crud last night and spent all night not sleeping because my throat hurt so much. Thankfully, I was able to get into the doc this morning. He took a strep culture, ruled that out but also said I definitely had something and put me on antibiotics. I sure am thankful for easy access to medicine. Goodness gracious, how I wish all people could have that.

ANYWAY... in between a couple of naps and brainless TV, I was able to do email for about an hour. I read a surprise announcement from Saddleback Church, that their long-term youth pastor, Doug Fields, has resigned. I've always appreciated Doug's work -- in the funky and extremely small niche of youth ministry, he's a celebrity. His books are quality resources, and his articles always feel genuine.

I would recommend reading his entire resignation letter, but one paragraph in particular really stuck out, because I am amazed at how similar his experience sounds to my own exit this past February:
What am I going to do? Well, there's not another specific job that I'm departing to, but I am leaving staff to pursue some incredible opportunities to express my writing and teaching gifts. What I'm really doing is what I've taught you to do -- listen for God's whisper and obey it! Several people have said, 'You're crazy to leave a secure Saddleback Church job during this unstable market.' Humanly speaking, they're right... following God doesn't always make sense, but I know I need to do the right thing: listen and obey.
Looking back on these past several months, I can definitely say that I still have so much to learn. I have learned to love stepping out into the unknown. I have been humbled by not being able to find my identity in a title or job. I am grateful beyond words for how God has insisted, over and over, that I must learn to truly listen. Closely. Consistently. Quietly. God is talking to us all the time. How sad that we so rarely stop to truly have conversation.
11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1Kings 19)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sept 09 Update on This 'n That ~ Part Deux

Things keep rolling along and there are fun things to update:

Eden Reforestation Projects - lots of cool stuff going on:
  • This year we were able to put 1.6 million seedlings into the ground. Our collective survival rate is about 85% which is really high for reforestation work. The total in Madagascar is 2.15 million -- so our global total is 3.8 million and will likely hit 4 million. This is especially thrilling because our goal was 3 million trees planted.
  • We just lined up a sponsor partnership with Simple Shoes -- until October 17 if people go to the website and select "click here to plant trees" then Eden will receive a dollar for each person who submits their email address. We're hoping people will spread this through their own social networks (hint, hint), but that will greatly broaden Eden visibility.
  • I spoke last week for Eden in Long Beach at the National Superintendents' meeting for the Free Methodist Church, and am headed up to Seattle in October to speak at the Pastors' Day for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist church.
Youth Ministry Architects:
  • I just got back last night from a 3-day project in the western suburbs of Chicago, which was a follow up from another trip in June. This one was a "visioning retreat," where we worked with a good group of folks from the church to pull together a 3-year plan for their youth ministry. I love helping people lay solid foundations for youth ministry!
  • I am still working with churches in Nebraska and Arizona, and am picking up a new church in Seattle next month. I am gaining great experience in learning how to equip others in youth ministry from a broad spectrum of location and experience.
Providence Hall High School:
  • I'm happy to report that our first parenting seminar, "Providence Presents," came off successfully. Someone who attended counted 112 people in attendance Our next one is scheduled for Oct. 28.
  • We have our student retreat next week - I thought I was done with going to camp. But apparently not.... thankfully, I LOVE these students, so that will make it worth it. Camp #101, here I come!
I'm grateful for several youth ministry-related blogs running my articles, and Youthworker Journal is publishing another one of mine in the November/December issue on local service. The pay is next to nothing -- but at least I'm in print, right?!

Final thoughts... yes, I love sharing the work stuff with each of you. I'm enjoying this time of unknowns (yes, I'm really saying that), creativity, exploration and risk. But ultimately, where I am the most deeply moved is in how my faith is growing from so much challenge and change.

I read this today from Henri Nouwen, and it resonated:
Keeping Close to the Word of Jesus

The words of Jesus can keep us erect and confident in the midst of the turmoil of the end-time. They can support us, encourage us, and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death. Jesus' words are food for eternal life. They do much more than give us ideas and inspiration. They lead us into the eternal life while we are still being clothed in mortal flesh.

When we keep close to the word of Jesus, reflecting on it, "chewing" on it, eating it as food for the soul, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I am One of Them

This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from
this fair garden, under the shadow of these vines. But if I
climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands,
you know very well what I would see--brigands on the high
roads, pirates on the seas; in the amphitheaters men murdered
to please applauding crowds; under all roofs misery and

It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly

bad world. Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy
people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times
better than any pleasures of this sinful life. They are
despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome
the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians--and I am
one of them.
... St. Cyprian (?-258), a letter in A Treasury of Sermon
Illustrations, Charles Langworthy Wallis, ed.,
Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950, p. 59

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pan-Roasted Corn & Tomato Salsa - Say No to the Death of Summer!

I can take absolutely no credit for this recipe, but it is REMARKABLE. It is full of texture and individual flavors that somehow stand out on their own but also blend together into a party in your mouth.

Live in denial -- summer is not over yet as long as you can make this recipe. I got it from Jen Corey and her Fairview Gardens weekly email.

Pan-Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad

(from Mark Bittman's column in The New York Times August 19, 2009)

1/4 pound bacon, chopped (aka 4 slices of bacon)

1 small red onion or shallot, chopped

4 to 6 ears corn, stripped of their kernels (2 to 3 cups)

Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste

2 cups cored and chopped tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes - glorious)

1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped

2 fresh small chilies, like Thai, seeded and minced (optional)

Salt and black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more or less.

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to render fat; add onion and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, then add corn. Continue cooking, stirring or shaking pan occasionally, until corn begins to brown a bit, about 5 more minutes; remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Drain fat if you wish. It will be difficult to hold back from eating it at this point -- be strong and patient
  2. Put lime juice in a large bowl and add bacon-corn mixture; then toss with remaining ingredients. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings.

P.S. I served this on warm corn tortillas.... eat slowly and savor every bite.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sept 09 Update on This 'n That

The school year has launched with a frenzy of activity, so I wanted to give some updates. I cannot believe this is my 28th fall with students. Zoiks.

Before school started I took my annual Central Coast camping trip with my niece and nephew. They are 9 and 11 now, and we had a great time. My nephew stayed up with me around the fire one night and saw the Milky Way for the first time. I love camping. (I don't like the dirt part, but the rest is great.)

I came home to a very full in-service week with Providence Hall, where I met with the faculty, coached the student leaders, and co-ran the New Student Orientation (our new students are in the photo below). These were great times of planning and connection, but I what I really enjoyed was the start of classes yesterday. Providence does a great job creating rites of passage, and yesterday was no exception as we started off with a "first walk" and Convocation ceremony. (I guess it's similar to what Westmont does at the beginning of each year.) Yep, that's me in my academia regalia... finally, that ol' Masters' Degree pays off! ☺

I taught my first class of "Foundations" today. I will be teaching on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the entire student body attends. I will be starting off with a series on the Book of Nehemiah and I am very fired up about it. Today's message was just an introduction. I played a clip of JFK's "we choose to go to the moon" speech from 1962 (it gave me chills -- not sure it made them even blink, but you never know with teenagers...) Scroll to the 7:32 point and listen through his reasons for going to the moon. I noted the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, and how audacious JFK's ambitions were. From there I asked the students what their own "moon landings" were -- those seemingly impossible things, and how we are going to talk about the impossible this fall. I love teaching students, FYI.

Meanwhile, my other projects are plowing forward. As for my consulting with Youth Ministry Architects, I return to the Chicago suburbs on Sept 17-19 for a follow consultation with a church I worked with in June, and in October I start up another project in Seattle. I am continuing with a church in Nebraska, and coaching a great little church in a suburb of Phoenix.

I'm meeting weekly (through video conferencing) with 3 Southern CA Free Methodist lead pastors for coaching in leadership development and I love it! Each church is extremely different, and I have loved drawing upon the diverse opportunities I have had in my ministry history in the past. I feel so blessed.

Eden Reforestation Projects continues to challenge and inspire me. I just got word today, after a lot of emails back and forth, that a major business has agreed to sponsor us -- I will let you know soon which one it is. I'm so stoked! For a limited time, for each product they sell they will make a donations to plant a tree for Eden Projects. I'm praying this could be the beginning of some cool sponsorships by companies seeking to act out some social responsibility.

On behalf of Eden, I'm also slotted to speak at a national pastors' gathering next week in Long Beach, a gathering of Pacific Northwest Pastors in October, and a conference for pastors on the entire Eastern Seaboard in April in Orlando. Pinch me, I'm dreaming! Please pray that this would bear fruit in terms of donors and vision. We need to keep planting millions of trees. I've also connected a church here in Santa Barbara with the president of Eden. The church here has ministered for 4 years in Haiti, and have been praying about how to dig even deeper in caring for this devastated country through reforestation. Through a providential meeting, I met the doctor who has led this ministry, and now Eden is going with them in October to explore tree nursery sites! This would become the 3rd country we work in.

Finally, I have another article coming out in Youthworker Journal soon, and my articles are posted regularly on Youthminblog and YMToday. It's really fulfilling for me personally, but it's especially great to hear from youth pastors serving faithfully in every corner of the US. A cool network of folks is out there.

I'll end with a quote that I read earlier this week. It hit me deeply. I won't even try to say why. I'll just let it speak for itself. Thanks for reading. It means a lot to me.
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do--
to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive
the world at its harshest and worst--is by that very act, to be
unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more
wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the
harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your
life against being destroyed secures your life also against
being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life
itself comes from. You can even prevail on your own. But you
cannot become human on your own.
... Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), The Sacred Journey, San
Fransisco: Harper & Row, 1982, p. 46