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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Seven

Last night a group of us who meet every Tuesday night for Bible study and fellowship did what we normally do on the last Tuesday of every month: we do laundry with friends who live on the streets. It was started at a laundromat nearby by a friend of mine who called it Laundry Love. (I know there are other Laundry Loves in Santa Barbara, but we are only connected in spirit).

We arrive around 5pm with a Costco-sized tub of laundry detergent and an old pasta jar full of quarters.  As we plug quarters into the washers and dryers, we hang out and visit with our friends. Once the stuff is in the dryers, we serve up about 6 large Domino's pizzas, which we purchase through a generous deal with the owner next door.

I need to be honest and say that when we started doing this about eighteen months ago that I had to really rev myself up every time to do it. It's a very meaningful thing to do, but that doesn't make it easy. Making conversation with people who are living with some major challenges -- be they financial, medical, mental, chemical or social -- is not always easy.

But after all these months, something clicked for me last night. It was... lovely. Conversation came naturally, names were known and said, genuine affection was shared, and we laughed as we lamented the troubles of life together. One of our key couples was not there last night because they had taken a trip to New York City which was very much derailed by Hurricane Sandy. The regulars heard about this and had a bunch of questions for us. One of them said as we were leaving, "Please make sure they know that we are all praying for them here." I nodded, and thought to myself, if anyone knows the challenges that weather and hardship can bring, it is these people. Their prayers will be heartfelt, for sure.

I prayed about our time together with our friends this morning, and I read these two things:

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption.  As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear:  by focusing on the poor.  The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation.  When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity.  It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.  Paul says,  "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).  This is the true vision.  The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace. (Henri Nouwen)

Psalm 103

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

I have learned so much not just by serving but by knowing the poor. They are not "bums" or "hobos"... they are people with names who are made in the image of God. He knows the number of hairs on their heads.

I heard this verse taught on years ago by a man I greatly admire, Bob Mitchell, the former president of Young Life. I take it seriously, and will end with it:

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor
    will be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Six

I will start this post by saying, "It's Still Easy Being Green." Huh?

As I share in these last few posts about what I am up to, I want to confirm that I am still as green as ever when it comes to transportation. Two years ago, almost to the day, I posted here about selling my car and opting to rely instead on my scooter, my bike, my feet, public transportation, the kindness of friends and an occasional car rental!

Whenever this comes up in conversation, people are nearly always either curious or baffled. And then their first question is usually some variation on "And how's that working for you?" I am happy to say that I am doing just fine. More than fine, really.

Not only has it been two years since I sold my faithful 1997 Subaru Legacy Wagon, but it's also been five and a half years since I bought my Buddy scooter, which is just about to hit 14,000 miles on the odometer. It's also been over nine years (May 2003) since I started this "green journey" intentionally. Along the way, I've definitely discovered a few things...

It's not that difficult. Granted, I'm single and don't have to transport others on a regular basis. But regardless of who I talk to about this, it is easy for them to admit that they could easily do one trip a day without their car. Here's more info and motivation on bicycle commuting. Really - think about it... consolidate some errands into one trip; bring a lunch to work instead of driving somewhere; ride your bike to Farmer's Market... there are plentiful options!

It helps me stay in shape. By walking and/or cycling every day, I would venture to say I'm the healthiest I've ever been. And I've finally been able to figure out how to lose a little weight along the way. Quite possibly a miracle for me, a person with the metabolism of a fire hydrant.

It makes me more aware of the poor in our midst. It's so #firstworldproblems to talk about being green, in some ways. After all, the hipsters love to ride chic bikes or scooters, right? And let's not forget that it is quite the luxury to get to choose whether or not to drive a car. But I will say that not having a car has caused me to be much more aware of the elements. For example, I diligently check the weather forecast almost every day in order to figure out what I will face as I go places. And whenever it rains more than sprinkles, I take the bus. One time on the bus I overheard two people sitting next to me spend the entire bus ride (half an hour) talking through their options for the day due to the weather. It only took a few minutes to figure out that they both lived on the streets by what they talked about: which bus stops had shelters, where to buy fresh socks for the cheapest price, where to find warm meals, etc. Ever since then, I think about our friends on the streets whenever the weather veers from our 70 degrees in Santa Barbara.

I am a more thoughtful consumer. This could be an entire blog topic by itself, but suffice it to say that when I have to first consider whether or not I can carry whatever I purchase in the front basket of my scooter, or in the grocery bag carrier on my bike, that I am greatly slowed down when it comes to shopping.

My main motivation is spiritual. I can't deny that I'm saving a bunch of money by doing this. Filling up my scooter still costs less than $6, no car maintenance saves a bundle, and even on those days I need to rent a car or take the train, it all adds up to be much less expensive in comparison to the weekly costs of owning a car. But make no mistake, Reason #1, first and foremost, for me "being green" is creation care. I firmly believe that we are called as Christians to be good stewards of God's creation. As I mentioned directly above, not having a car forces me to be more careful in my spending. But I want to be quick to say that this is because I am pursuing the spiritual discipline of simplicity, not because I need to pinch pennies. (Though I cheer on anyone who needs to do it for this reason!) I am blessed to say that I am in a comfortable place financially, earning more than in my previous position at a church.

Just a few things to think about....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Five

Almost exactly a year ago I posted an update of writing projects, and I'm happy to say that the opportunities keep coming. This week in particular has been a banner week for me, and I want to share my good news.

Before I begin: I've said it before and I'll say it again... if I was hoping to make a living as a writer I would be homeless and hungry. But getting to write things on a regular basis to a nice variety of audiences is more than gratifying, so I am not complaining.

Here is what has come out this week -- I wrote them all at various points this summer and fall, but they managed to be released at the same time:

November will mark four years since I went on sabbatical and started this rollercoaster (as many downs as ups) ride of transition. In this process I have learned more than could ever be adequately described here, but suffice it to say I am nearly speechless with gratefulness at God's creative provision and more importantly, his very real presence and love. He is the God of freedom, grace and eternity.

To conclude I share some words from the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 31 (verses 17-20) that I read today:
“O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! You show unfailing love to thousands, but you also bring the consequences of one generation’s sin upon the next. You are the great and powerful God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You have all wisdom and do great and mighty miracles. You see the conduct of all people, and you give them what they deserve. You performed miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt—things still remembered to this day! And you have continued to do great miracles in Israel and all around the world. You have made your name famous to this day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Four

Despite my schedule getting that much busier as I juggle a class at APU and teaching at Westmont, I still get to cook nearly every night of the week -- and never you fear, my Big Three are still front & center: gluten-free, organic and seasonal.

Before I continue though, I must share this: on Twitter yesterday I saw this tweet and it made me laugh out loud. It came from someone running a fake Chris Rock account, but nevertheless:
Most people don't realize this, but you can eat organic, all natural, gluten-free food without telling everyone around you.
Fantastic! Mr. Fake Chris Rock, rest assured that I do realize this, and yes, I see that I am being made fun of. Totally fine.

As I was saying, I'm still cooking up a storm... Summer was fantastic, full of berries, chard, endless zucchini, all sorts of tomatoes, red peppers, eggplant, cauliflower... the list goes on and on. As fall vegetables take hold, I shed a tear at the loss of my beloved red peppers and raspberries, knowing I must wait many months for their return. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I will simply stuff my face with other lovely delectables! Tonight I made a favorite of mine from last year, Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash. Uh-mazing still. But I've added a few more to the recipe box, and rather than stretch them out, I will list them all here... I have found them through various sources, and will only share the links here, for you to explore yourself. Trust me, they are a wonderland of yummy-ness.

Brown Rice Mushroom Pilaf - I don't know which part of this I like most, but toasted walnuts have become my new last-minute flair for several meals.

Farmer's Market Chowder - I'm a little late to the party on this one... you may have to use canned corn at this point, but it's still definitely worth it.

Risotto-Stuffed Mushrooms - Oh my heart this is fantastic! But I tweaked just a tad and it worked perfectly... rather than make this as an appetizer I stuffed the risotto into meal-sized portobellos. Trust me. Perfection.

Butternut Squash Risotto - Last but not least, my first butternut squash of the season awaits on my kitchen counter. Oh the joys!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Three

Now you might be rubbing your eyes and saying, "Wha-a-a-at?" I thought she just threw the Westmont logo up there. Now's she sporting the APU logo? What is up with that??"

Indeed. What is up with that? I am able to make the strange claim that I am indeed a Westmont Warrior (thanks to extremely part-time, adjunct faculty status) AND an Azusa Pacific University Cougar! What do I mean by that? Well... I'm currently enrolled as a student at APU Seminary. Crazy talk, I know.

Allow me to explain. I already have a Master's in Theology from Fuller Seminary (Go-o-o-o-o.... oh wait, Fuller doesn't have a mascot). In the last year, through my work with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, I have been working with administration, faculty and staff at APU on various projects (I'll talk about that in a later post), and have been very impressed with the caliber of folks I have met. Every single person has been creative, intelligent, energetic, entrepreneurial and generous with their time and support.  In talking with some faculty in the School of Theology, I started feeling that familiar itch, that growing desire to be back in school again, despite my tortoise-like pace in getting my MAT. I started poking around for information on what a Doctorate in Ministry (aka "DMin," but if you say that quickly, it doesn't sound good for us Jesus-followers... "I'm getting a DMin.") could look like. It didn't take long before I was hooked.

HOWEVER (isn't there always a "however"?), I also found out that my lowly MAT lacked a few credits to qualify me to start. So despite being a Fuller audit-aholic (I think I audited eight courses after finishing my degree) I was told I needed two more seminary courses to apply.

Since I love going to school, PERIOD, I was not too bummed by this news. Granted, driving down to Azusa once a week is no small accomplishment, but I have a carpool buddy (one of my summer interns who is just starting her seminary education), so it's all good. I'm taking Pastoral Counseling for Adolescents, and I am loving it. Yes, despite all these years in youth ministry, I still have plenty to learn.  It is awesome to be reminded of this. So far, the entire class has been worth it for one book: Becoming a Healthier Pastor by Ron Richardson. Outstanding! I've already referred it to a few "come-alongside" clients, who have echoed my praise. There are several other books, and a couple of them would get "Not a Fan" status from me, but overall the lectures have been A+ and I am already gathering notes for my research paper. If it goes well, maybe I'll even post it here!

So... Go Warriors, Go Cougars... heck, Go Gauchos! I'll be quick to admit it: I'm a lifelong student. And pretty darn happy about it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall Adventures 2012: Day Two

Yesterday I started what I hope will be some consecutive posts about the various projects I have spinning these days. I am beyond grateful at what God is bringing my way! His creativity and generous grace astound me. 

So in honor of "consecutive day" (10/11/12), here is my second, consecutive installment! (After a month of posting nothing, don't be impressed.)

To begin with, I will readily admit that some old friends of mine are allowed to chuckle that I have the Westmont logo posted here because I've always been one to tease pals about their fancy private Christian education, given that I spent my first twenty-two years at public institutions. To be a Christian in Santa Barbara just about inevitably means you will rub shoulders with Westmont in some way, shape, or form though. I cannot deny that a few times over the years I have had a frustration or two with in-jokes or shared memories that Westmont alums around me have shared in such a way that I felt was exclusive.

HOWEVER, I can happily say just as quickly that I have experienced so many great things from Westmont, mostly in the form of lovely people who graduated from there and went on to represent Christ and the Kingdom of God in amazing ways both big and small. I would venture to say that dozens of former youth leaders I have worked with have been influenced by Westmont, and I have known some remarkable faculty and staff.

And now, I am pretty darn surprised (and thankful) that I now actually find myself to be a paid (though extremely part-time) employee of Westmont. Who'd a thunk it? After three different Mayterms of teaching a five-week course on internships, the Religious Studies department asked me this summer to take on their RS190 internships elective. 

However, this decision was not confirmed till a month before school started this fall. Students had enrolled for their fall classes the previous spring, so the only way I could get some students to register for my course would be if they were willing to either pile onto their academic loads further or by dropping a course. Miraculously, on the first day of class (August 30), I had ten students in class! I was thrilled. Though the quickly joy abated just a bit as the "I hate to tell you this but..." emails rolled in. Pretty quickly some students came to realize they could not take the course for one reason or another, and by the second week, enrollment had whittled down to five. 

You don't hear me complaining though -- teaching five students is a dream. They are engaged in discussion, diligent in their reading, teachable in spirit, and relatively timely in completing their assignments :) It's a somewhat unconventional course in that it only meets for two hours once every two weeks, since the bulk of their time is to be spent at their actual internships. Two are serving in youth ministry, one is serving in a tremendous ministry that reaches out international students, and the last two are serving the poor on the Westside in a variety of ways. 

We are spending the semester integrating theology and practice in real settings, and our class discussions are great fun (for me at least). Slowly I am working through eight core competencies that I consider crucial for living out our faith in ministry settings. (Nope -- not gonna share 'em here. You need to take the class to find out what they are!) In these last years I have really discovered how much I want to equip and develop young believers in leadership principles. But I do not want to just inundate them with theories and aphorisms, sprinkled with some nice stories. Instead, I pray I am able to give tangible, compelling tools and a deep conviction to dive in and take some faith-filled risks.

Admittedly, I am also sad that due to the small enrollment I was not able to fill several internships that I sought out from colleagues around town, so I am praying that I will get another chance to teach this course. Nevertheless, I am not dwelling on that; rather, I'm maximizing my time up there as much as possible (aren't you surprised?). I have already had guest-taught in two other courses, and been invited to two more. And I served as the retreat speaker for the First-Year Retreat (AKA, freshmen). This was pure delight for me! I am still hearing from students I met on that retreat, asking to meet for lunch or coffee. Pinch me, I'm dreaming.

I share all this, hopefully not sounding like humblebrag. I am truly stunned at what I am getting to do. These verses from my morning reading today sum it up well:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

As I noted yesterday, I rejoice in how these opportunities are allowing me to thrive in so many ways... I feel like a sturdy little tree with roots going down deep, and am blessed by God's persistent love and grace.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall Adventures 2012 - Day One

I appreciated a friend's email today, asking about my blogging silence. He just wanted to make sure I was ok.

I am more than OK... I AM THRIVING!

I did have to shake my head though when I pulled up my blog just now and saw that I hadn't entered anything in just about a month. Yikes. Where did the time go?

So rather than drone on with a bullet list of what I am up to (I know I know, I have too many bullet lists....) I thought I would just share one update per post, and slowly fill things in as to what I've been up to. So here goes!

For this first entry, I don't know what to call it... The words "consulting" and "coaching" both have a negative ring to them for some, and I get a remark here and there at times when I use either one of these words to describe some of what I do now. What can I say? I love it, and it is really keeping me busy.

For lack of a better term, I come alongside pastors for a period of time and work with them on a variety of things. Since June 2009, I have met with youth pastors and directors from thirteen different churches located in Florida, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, Arizona and California through a great group of people called Youth Ministry Architects. They gave me a chance when I first entered my big transition from day-to-day youth pastoring, and I am forever grateful to them. 

And starting in March 2009 I have done the same thing with pastors in the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, having worked with twenty-one churches so far. I've fallen in love with the people and the denomination. They labor long and hard and often in anonymity. I have worked with churches from 30 to 800 people. I've been translated into Cantonese, preached to an entirely Latino congregation and even went to three different churches in one day. It's an adventure and I love it.

But let's get specific... What does this coaching / consulting / coming-alongside "thing" look like? Honestly, it varies every time because my first question inevitably is, "What do you need?" Rather than crank people through a gimmicky program, I simply try to bring a big toolbox of resources and experience to every situation. I listen a lot, take a whole lot of notes, brainstorm, and pray.

Quite possibly the most interesting part is how it all works out week by week... after an initial on-site visit where I get to know the pastor and the church a bit, I then meet regularly with them via online video calls. I'm at the point where I am on Skype or Google Hangout just about every day. For example, this was my schedule today:

  • 9-10am: meet with campus pastor who has launched a new service reaching college students and young adults in So Cal.
  • 10-11am: meet with a senior pastor who is leading a church in the High Desert as he ministers to military, Native Americans, retirees, young families, a Christian school and people in recovery.
  • noon-1pm: work with a board member in Rancho Cucamonga to keep shaping our Center for Transformational Leadership. We have at least ten different leadership development projects going on with undegrad and grad students at Azusa Pacific and Westmont. But that's another blog post...
  • 1-2pm: meet for monthly training with a middle school youth director in a Seattle suburb.
  • 2-3pm: meet with an associate pastor in a town near downtown LA.
Isn't that crazy?? Yes, I take breaks to go to the bathroom and eat, but other than that it's a blinger of a day. Yes, I get a little hoarse, and I need a good bike ride after sitting that long, but I consider it an amazing privilege to come alongside these friends. We work on strategic planning, youth ministry, preaching calendars, cross-cultural ministry, staff development, time management, leadership development, new initiatives, spiritual formation, social media, pastoral care, you name it.

I read these verses this morning and they made me think of the churches and people I am working with right now. I praise God for the opportunities before me:

May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. (1Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Thanks for reading... much more to share in the days to come.