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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Hashtags

Here's some odds and ends floating around in my head....

First of all, this Duck Dynasty thing is maddening on so many levels. For some good commentary, here is a thoughtful link: The Duck Thing: Is There Another Way?

More importantly, as I saw one person note on Facebook, why can't we get more upset about the many people dying in Syria and Sudan and QUIT TALKING ABOUT IDIOTIC, MEDIA-CREATED GARBAGE LIKE THIS?? The persecuted silently suffer, as they have for 2,000 years. Years ago at the Urbana Missions Conference, these words burned in me as I heard them, seemingly for the first time:

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:3)

Join me in praying with and supporting the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission as you plan your year-end giving (and then continue year-round...) #wearlc1

Next... I'm continuing to read Long Walk to Freedom, the 1994 autobiography of Nelson Mandela, and also anticipating the release of the new movie of the same title coming out on Christmas Day. I'm well aware that Nelson Mandela was not perfect, but his life is still a remarkable inspiration to me. To be a reconciler and a peacemaker is very hard work, and more discouraging than encouraging. Examples like his are tremendously motivating. I smiled when I read this quote from one Mandela's mentors (Chief Luthuli) last night, pertaining to women joining the fight against apartheid in 1957: "When the women begin to take an active part in the struggle, no power on earth can stop us from achieving freedom in our lifetime." Currently, I am equally spurred on to continue through reading Christena Cleveland's blog. Her recent post titled "Christmas is Cross-Cultural" is especially good. #cscleve

Third, I can't deny I am super-encouraged by the partnership we are continuing to build as Free Methodists in So Cal with Azusa Pacific University. There are far too many projects to list individually, but from internships to admissions to diversity to field education, we are deeply involved with and connected to students, faculty and administration at APU. At right is the recent photo taken where we publicly celebrated the new covenant established between APU and the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA (FMCSC), contained in the Center for Transformational Leadership (CTL). Jon Wallace, the president of APU, is standing in the middle (directly to the left of me). He is a gifted, supportive and visionary leader. CTL is a big part of my work these days (OK, for the last two years), and you can always feel free to ask me about it. I am pumped. #fmcsc (and we're about to launch #fmcsc_ctl)

From the sublime to the mundane.... finish with a good laugh here. (Skip the ad before the cartoon). Yes, there are too many cat videos on the interweb, but THIS is a good one. #simonscat


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Portable Magic

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis

Despite all of the advances in technology, I still find that reading a book is my favorite way to pass the time. I chose to be an English major in college because I could not imagine how fun it would be to have my actual job be to read! I will admit that being an English major on the quarter system at UCSB (as opposed to semesters) is not something I would care to repeat -- I still have occasional flashbacks about the quarter when I took two lit classes and had to read 17 books in ten weeks. Even still, I reveled in my major, and am thankful for the strong foundation of reading in Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, Homer, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Austen, Chaucer (among so many others) that was instilled in me. Further classes introduced me to Dante, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Weil, Kafka, Neruda, Marquez, Sartre... ah, those were the days.

Though the working life does not allow for that amount of reading anymore, I developed the habit back then of always working on a 2-3 books at a time. I spent much of the Thanksgiving holiday buried in reading, and look forward to even more of the same during Christmas break. Here are the ones I'm currently working on:

  • A Thomas Merton Reader. I stumbled on this at a used bookstore (how few of those there are any longer... boooooooo.....) During a trip in Italy a few years ago I brought The Seven Storey Mountain and developed a taste for Merton. While some of his writing is a little raggedy and I don't always agree with him spiritually, I find him to be an exciting and raw writer who challenges me in many ways. I especially love his stuff on the contemplative life, and let's be honest, his own story is a crazy and fascinating tale. Favorite quote so far: Sincerity in the fullest sense is a divine gift, a clarity of spirit that comes only with grace. Unless we are made “new men,” created according to God “in justice and the holiness of truth,” we cannot avoid some of the lying and double dealing which have become instinctive in our natures, corrupted, as St. Paul says, “according to the desire of error.” (Eph. 4:22)
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. I bought this years ago at one of those Borders liquidation sales and have been saving it as a special treasure since then (OK, little digression: does anyone like owning books as much as reading them?!) Once "Madiba" took gravely ill, I vowed to pick it up and had been planning on burrowing in with it over Christmas break in preparation for the film coming out. Upon the news of his passing I knew I couldn't wait any longer, and picked it up last night. Before I knew it I'd read 60 pages. Get this book. Favorite quote so far: “A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” 
  • Radical Reconciliation by Curtiss DeYoung and Alan Boesak. I heard DeYoung speak at the Mosaix 2013 conference in November and wanted to learn more from him. In my own journey of learning and practice in the realm of reconciliation in and through the church, this book is proving to be a tremendous and thought-provoking resource. Given that Boesak participated in the anti-apartheid fight, I'm finding some fascinating themes coming together in reading Mandela at the same time. I just finished a section on the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19 that blew me away. Stretch your heart and mind and pick this up. (P.S. I'm reading this one on my Kindle -- yes, I've caved in to having an e-reader... I cannot deny how convenient it is, and as a person who lives in a condo, I have officially run out of room for more books.) Favorite quote so far: When genuine reconciliation takes place, it brings more than just individual salvation.


Admittedly, this is a rather serious-sounding list. I'm not one who tends to pick up the latest beach read (nothing wrong with that, just not what keeps my attention...) Never fear, I also love my Sunset, Vegetarian Times and New Yorker magazines, and I'm hoping to get the latest Malcolm Gladwell book for Christmas (hint hint). 

As I write this I am looking at the pile of unread books that await me when I finish up these three. How thankful I am that I never tire of having that pile in front of me. As Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” I have been transformed, transported, and enchanted by reading. Feel free to share what books you are enjoying these days. Onward and upward!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"How Much Longer?"

This past week I spent some time with a ministry staff who asked me to come in and talk about organization and time management. Some of the team was struggling with too many things to do and too little time to get it all done.

I did not know most of these folks, so in order to get to know them, I asked them to write a headline for their ministry newsletter, ten years in the future. "What would you want the headline to say about you?"

They came up with some outstanding and aspirational statements. None of them were arrogant or shallow -- all of the statements were deeply significant and focused on the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, they all admitted to some level of exhaustion over the many things they were trying to do, many of which were not taking them in the directions their headlines aspired to.

Then we talked about what it takes to keep focused on their ultimate goals and not get mired in the day-to-day chaos of to-do lists and people's crises. Stephen Covey, in his tried and true book 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, says that what we want said about ourselves at the end of our lives turns out to be our definition of success. I said that a formative booklet for me in college was titled The Tyranny of the Urgentwhich taught me about shaping my life around important things, which may not demand my attention the way that those urgent things do. The rest of our time together was spent in talking about how to manage our priorities and schedules according to the important things.

I'm well aware that this is far easier said than done, and I submit to you that after thirty years of vocational ministry, I may only now be starting to get the hang of it. I was reminded of this message again in my reading. Once again, Henri Nouwen speaks profound truth:

If we do not wait patiently in expectation for God's coming in glory, we start wandering around, going from one little sensation to another.  Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossip.  Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what doesn't, and our hearts gradually lose their spiritual sensitivity. 

Without waiting for the second coming of Christ, we will stagnate quickly and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure.  When Paul asks us to wake from sleep, he says:  "Let us live decently, as in the light of day; with no orgies or drunkenness, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy.  Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop worrying about how your disordered natural inclinations may be fulfilled"  (Romans 13:13-14).  When we have the Lord to look forward to, we can already experience him in the waiting.

Like children on a road trip with their parents, we are usually impatient to get to our destination, and incessantly ask, "How much longer??" In the same way, as adults we indulge our impatience by tinkering around with busyness that often does not add up to anything of real substance over time. The process of maturation must include growth in the capacity to delay gratification. This passage has been instructive in so many ways:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

May we be impatient for our true destination, but somehow also enjoy the journey.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

In sunny, silly Santa Barbara, the main way I can tell that it is fall (even though it was 80 pickin' degrees yesterday...) is that there is a plethora of sweet potatoes, yams, squash and pumpkins in the store. I love them all!

As I approached lunchtime today, I looked at the sweet potato on my counter, and then turned to my pantry. With a can of diced tomatoes and a can of black beans, I was confident something good was coming... I googled those three ingredients, and here's where I landed.

Wish I could share a bowl with you right now. My tummy is quite happy. Stoked too that leftovers will be divine! Try it out.

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups water
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* I also added a half-cup of frozen corn kernels

PREPARATION
Heat oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mosaix 2013 ~ quotes and reflections

Last week I attended the Mosaix 2013 conference in Long Beach (November 5-6). This is the description of it from the website:
The 2nd National Multi-ethnic Church Conference will gather more than 600 like-minded ministry pioneers - experienced local church pastors and planters, network and denominational leaders, authors and educators - passionately pursuing the establishment of healthy multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches for the sake of the Gospel in an increasingly diverse society. 
There ended up being around 1,000 people there, and it was an excellent experience. I went with six others with whom I am teamed up in pursuing a missional initiative in the Westside neighborhood here in Santa Barbara, along with the five staff pastors from the church and over 100 Free Methodist leaders from Southern California.

The time would have been worth it simply for the drive down and back in terms of intentional time for our Westside Initiative team to talk, process, think out loud and even disagree. But fortunately, the conference also provided some excellent insights. That doesn't mean I loved every speaker -- some actually infuriated me -- but overall, I was challenged and encouraged by several of them.

The conference was absolutely jam-packed with presentations, and they used an interesting format: there were three plenary sessions each day, and four speakers in each plenary slot, using a sort of TED Talk format. Each one was given 17 minutes to speak, and came one after the other. The four messages in each plenary session did not really relate to each other, and I guess that was ok. What I liked about this format was that if I wasn't feelin' it for the speaker, I knew it would be over soon, and if it was a compelling one, I hung on every word, knowing the time would speed by quickly. On top of all that, there were seminar tracks to follow, two seminars each day. Let's just say it was like drinking from a firehose.

Hands down, the highlight was hearing from Dr. John Perkins, who really is the mentor and leader of this movement toward multi-cultural ministry and church community. (I'm including a photo from my phone... grainy, but a visual reminder of this great day.) He has served in the trenches for 53 years, and the wisdom gleaned from such a life is immeasurably valuable. He went over his 17 minutes, and was I ever thankful. Praise God for his faithful service.

Yesterday I spent two hours poring over my notes from the conference, typing some of them up while discarding others. As is my way, I also ended up noting some books mentioned by presenters that I want to read as a follow up. If you like Twitter, you can just go to #mosaix2013 and see many of the comments and quotes that flowed from the time. But here is my own twitter feed of sorts...

"The church should not and cannot be segregated. Between 1990-2009, US population grew by 56 million. But how many became active church members? Only 450k. 1% at most. We're undermining the gospel." Mark DeYmaz, co-founder of Mosaix Global Network

"Luke 4 is also the Great Commission. Intrinsic to the gospel, it is preached to the poor first. Matthew 28 must be read in light of Luke 4, which was preached at the beginning of Jesus' ministry." Mark DeYmaz

"Why do we let the culture of America rather than the gospel shape our churches?" Derwin Gray

"The multi-ethnic church race: not a sprint, but a marathon for life." Paul Louis Metzger

"It is no use to walk anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching." St. Francis (quoted by Eugene Cho)

"When the grass looks greener on the other side, water the grass you are standing on!" Eugene Cho

[In pursuing multi-cultural relationships...] "If you're not uncomfortable at least 25% of the time, you're not pushing limits." Curtiss DeYoung

"In that space between idea and actuality, best practices won't get you there! The only thing to get you through the gap is a deep and abiding conviction that the scriptures command us to do this. Peter even missed it. It's hard." Leonce Crump

"This conference has helped me to complete a life. Like Simeon waiting for Messiah, then meeting Jesus in the temple. I've seen some hope fulfilled. I feel finished. I couldn't be more joyful... Everything else we do is minor. No greater call than to be called to the service of Jesus... This renewal is of God. It's gonna happen. The world will see what can't happen politically or socially. This will show what God can do." Dr. John Perkins

"Find out what 'good news' means for your neighborhood." Christena Cleveland

"God is personal, but never private." Jim Wallis

"It is not admirable to be multi-racial in the Body of Christ. It is intrinsic... Racism is a sin against God." Jim Wallis

I hope to spend the rest of my days pursuing this way of ministry. We were reminded by many of the speakers that we must be in this journey for the long haul. Christena Cleveland reminded us that Jesus lived on earth for thirty years before he even started his ministry! But I am more convinced than ever that "to whom much is given, much more is required (Luke 12:48), and I am so grateful for the community I am apart of. 

I am assuming there will be follow up materials (articles, videos, etc.) from the conference, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, may we all be praying for the vision of eternity from Revelation 7:9-10,
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Proclaim and Persist

Yesterday was a good time of reflection for me. In my internships course at Westmont College, I brought in two guests who shared their "calling stories" -- the ways in which they sensed that God had directed them into live out lives of service and ministry. I think all too often, we as Christians assume that only if we are struck blind on a road to Damascus or hear a voice from heaven that we are "called." I wanted my class to hear from two faithful leaders, who really just put one foot in front of the other in obedience and lived fruitful lives. We are all called to this.

Naturally, as I listened to these wise and gifted friends, I thought about my own process. One of the speakers shared that we are just like Abraham, who never really knew where he was headed, but went on a "journey by stages," discovering God's call on his life bit by bit, year by year, place by place.

I confirm this insight. I never fail to be surprised at where God has taken me, and what opportunities he brings.

In the last week I have had a wonderful array of "past, present, and future" encounters that reminded me of the array of those opportunities. I heard from former students, now approaching 40, with children and ministries of their own, thanking me for our times together. I sat on a council with a wide variety of gifted church leaders, all reflecting on the past and looking into what it will take to live into God's vision for the kingdom. I worshiped and learned with a room full of Latino pastors and leaders, considering the missional opportunities that await us in the 21st century, especially in Southern California. I met with several students individually and talked over the highs and lows of faith and dating and decision-making, secretly smiling over the several hundred times I have had these conversations with students since 1982... and last but not least, I played with a park full of children on the Westside, juggling a plate full of delicious tacos while avoiding soccer balls as they flew through the air, rejoicing at the missional community that is growing among a group of us.

Today's reading took me into 2Timothy 4, where the Apostle Paul is passing the torch of ministry and leadership onto Timothy. While I do not feel like I'm at the end of my journey, this passage does give me great things to ponder as I continue on my "journey by stages":

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (verses 1-8)

Paul's imperatives stand out to me most:

     "proclaim"

     "persist"

     "convince"

     "rebuke"

     "encourage"

I take each of these to heart, and want to remember to continue in them "whether the time is favorable or unfavorable." To pursue them all requires a combination of assertiveness and sensitivity, where I am both "wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove" (Matthew 10:16). Only the Spirit's work in us can manage that delicate tension.

Think about your own journey by stages. Rejoice in how each step brings you closer to God and shapes you ever so slightly. May we each persevere as fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Car(e)-Free for Three

October is Halloween and all manner of pumpkin-spiced marketing for many people, but for me, October is the month when I sold my car in 2010.

I marked my decision in this post back then, so I won't revisit the reasons here. But it is worth noting some of the things I've learned and experienced since taking the plunge.

In no particular order of importance...

  1. When you go everywhere on a scooter, bike or bus, you can't buy a lot of stuff. This is a great built-in mechanism for keeping you accountable in terms of spending. There are not a lot of impulse purchases in my life. 
  2. I'm known as "the one with the scooter" at two different car rental agencies in town. I need to go down south about twice a month for work projects. Unfortunately, they are often not near Amtrak stops, so I have to rent a car (for which I am reimbursed). At Enterprise and Thrifty here in town, they allow me to park my scooter near their offices when I rent a vehicle, even overnight. 
  3. The "Tucano Urbano" (Urban Toucan!) leg cover is my favorite new item for 2012. I got this for Christmas last year, and I still love it! I hate to admit it, but it gets a little crisp on the scoot scoot at times. But it's not so bad now with my faux fur-lined "lap apron" (yes, that's what they call it). When I add that to my snowboarding gloves, Patagonia bomber jacket and giant black scarf, I'm bundled up quite nicely.
  4. I never get tired of paying just $5 to fill my tank. Nuff said.
  5. I love "rock star parking." Tomorrow night I'm going to a concert at the County Bowl, and we'll be able to pull right up to the venue and park on the curb, in some little two foot wide parking space.
  6. Riding a bike is both an excellent way to stay in shape and a super way to get around town. I just had arthroscopic knee surgery in August for an old youth ministry injury from 1989 (sigh) and when I returned to the surgeon for a follow-up last week, he said that I didn't need any physical therapy because the bike riding was an even better way to rehabilitate it. Yesssss! I also enjoy picking up my groceries every few days on my bike, or just riding somewhere pretty (and there are some pretty great options here).
  7. Taking the bus should be an option for everyone. Admittedly, I get around town mostly on my bike or scooter, but during the rare days of inclement weather, I will gladly take the bus. Here are my extended thoughts on taking the bus... but for this short list, I will simply say that I think Americans have an unhealthy love affair with their cars and need to do the environment a BIG favor and look for ways to cut back. We cannot use fossil fuel indefinitely, and it's environmentally devastating.
  8. I enjoy my surroundings far more when I'm not in a car. Whether it's giving a smile to the CalTrans guy on the road, having a conversation with a pedestrian at a stoplight, being able to hear birds sing as I ride by or just feeling the sunshine, there are so many lovely interactions and experiences I've had because I'm not cooped up in my car. 
I've logged over 16,000 miles on my scooter since I bought it in May 2007, and 50-75 miles each week on my bike since 2003. I know not everyone can make this choice, but if everyone just sacrificed one errand or drive in a car each day, the world would be a cleaner and safer place. Please think about it. Ciao Bella!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Seem to Have Misplaced September... Where Did It Go?!

I briefly glimpsed at my blog and was taken aback when I realized that I had not posted in six weeks! I have been occupied by many things... OK, let's be honest: totally preoccupied. Using an old Disneyland reference, it has felt like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Despite the flurry of activity (and thankfully, things are slowing down to more manageable levels), I am beyond grateful for so many exciting opportunities to fill my hours. Here's a smattering:

  • Teaching again at Westmont College. RS190, an elective internships course for the Religious Studies department. Eleven really sharp and interesting students deployed into awesome internships that work with undocumented immigrants, people living on the streets, junior high and high school youth, and in the classroom at a Christian school.
  • Director of Recruiting and Leadership Development for the Center for Transformational Leadership (CTL) at Azusa Pacific University. This functions through the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, and I've been working on the CTL since Fall 2011. I am especially excited that the CTL has just been formally accepted by APU as a ministry partner. I am down on campus regularly, working with faculty, administration, campus life staff and students. I've also just been invited to join the School of Theology's Council of Church Leaders. The CTL also includes the internship program. I just finished up my third summer with Free Methodist interns; we've had 25 so far!
  • Ministry coaching and consulting. I have my largest load to date. I am working with people in Indianapolis, Atlanta, Seattle and throughout Southern California. The variety is the most fun part... I'm working with three different denominations, a national communications department, several youth ministries, and senior pastors preaching and teaching in English, Spanish and Japanese.
  • Speaking and training. I just finished up being the camp speaker again for Westmont's First-Year Retreat. What a blast! I've got projects coming up in youth ministry training, spiritual formation, theological training, and Strengths Finder. 
  • Westside Initiative. This might have me more excited than anything else. Far too many great details to share here, but there is a group of about 20 of us who have been going to Santa Barbara's Westside since early June. Together we have prayed over and studied Luke 10:1-12, and have sought to practice these words: "Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’" We have gone to a local park week after week, which functions as the backyard for many hundred apartment-dwellers in the neighborhood. We've enjoyed their hospitality and are building friendships. I am stunned at the beauty of this endeavor and feel so privileged to be involved. More details to come, I'm sure.

These things remind me of this quote that I read yesterday:

Vincent de Paul said, “We must love God, but let it be in the work of our bodies, in the sweat of our brows. For very often many acts of love for God, of kindness, of good will, and other similar inclinations and interior practices of a tender heart, although good and very desirable, are yet very suspect when they do not lead to the practice of effective love.”

"The practice of effective love." Five very humbling words. It says in 2 Corinthians 4:1, "Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart." That tells me that we are certainly not doing God any favors by serving him; conversely, we are the ones who benefit the most. It is merciful of God to allow us to join him in his work. I pray you too are encouraged by whatever you get to do in the name of Christ. May we each be bearers of his love and life-changing shalom.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The "A" List of 2013 - Food Faves According to this Blog

Yep, despite my best writing efforts about thoughtful topics, by far the most visits here are generated by my recipes. Unlike the Tom Cruise character in A Few Good Men, I can handle the truth!

So here are the top winners... with one DEFINITELY leading the pack.

APPLE FRITTER RINGS - TRIPLE WOW. This one boggles me. YES, they are amazingly good. But oh my, there is a lot of good food out there. Nevertheless, this recipe has been pinned on some Pinterest pages, and that's all she wrote. I've had visitors from all over the world with that recipe -- I'm talking thousands. Go figure. So here it is again. They are little hand-held apple pies of goodness. If you haven't tried them yet... you crazy.

ALMOST ALFREDO. Yet again, so painfully simple yet so incredibly delish. I probably have this once a week. When you come home and you're baffled as to what to make for dinner, this is the go-to.

ARROZ NEGRITO (just like Gallo Pinto or Black Beans 'n Rice, y'all). This is my most requested "um, could you bring that to dinner?" whenever we have a picnic or potluck. The best thing about it is that you can make it in a rice cooker ahead of time, then bring it in the same pot. I have some friends who make a community meal each week for their neighborhood, and this is apparently the most popular and certainly easiest to make for a large group. It stays warm, and it also multi-tasks -- it pairs well with someone else's main dish, or it serves as a hearty appetizer with warm tortilla chips or tortillas.

I'm getting hungry. Off I go to make somethin'....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Millennial Musings

Thanks to the interweb, we live in a world where the reactions to words and events often get as much press as the original things themselves. I have been surprised at the uproar over Rachel Held Evans' post on CNN.com last week over why millennials are leaving the church.

On christianpost.com, author Brett McCracken was quoted as saying that "instead of telling church leaders what the church should look like, they should be the ones listening to the wisdom of pastors, parents and older believers. 'As a Millennial, if I'm truly honest with myself, what I really need from the church is not another yes-man entity enabling my hubris and giving me what I want.'" 

Christianity Today posted three responses from noted female writers, perhaps as a counter to Rachel Held Evans. One of them, Caryn Rivadeneira reflects on her own young adult prodigal experience and basically says, "been there, done that," ending with these words:
So, even though I prefer Christians welcoming the messes and the masses to church, it seems we would do well to tell the sick-and-tired, church-weary millennials: We get it. We've been there. Go do what you need to do; go where you need to go. God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat.
The other two writers bring slightly different takes, but overall, all three essentially say that this "I'm over the church" problem with young people has been happening for decades, and we just need to chill out. C'mon people, they'll wise up and come back, just like we did.

But will they?

Evans' article was posted on July 27, and since then 207,000 people (as of today) have recommended this article to their Facebook page. That tells me something. Sure, people forward kitten videos too, and that doesn't mean much. But when it comes to caring for others, I think my main job at as a Christian leader, pastor, and believer, at least at the outset, is to listen to people. Rather than point out the weakness of an argument or come back with a pithy rebuttal, I want to pay attention to what is being said, and try to tease out some of the metamessages hidden within and behind those 207,000 forwards. And let's not miss the fact that this was on CNN, not some backwater newspaper!

Is it hypocritical of me to rue the fact that we are all over-reacting to RHE's post while at the same time I want to put in my own two cents? Perhaps. Before I continue, I should explain that I have worked with this age group (now called Millennials, those born between 1980-2000) for over thirty years. When I started, they were called "Gen X" back then. And in some ways, I agree with some of the responses I've read. Yes, we all tend to go through that cocky stage where we push back on authority, and yes, in the past I have noticed some of my former students have wandered away from the church during college and then come back when they start making babies.

But I have to say that things feel a little different this time. I think there are two new dynamics at play, which perhaps are one and the same:

  • "Nones." As noted in recent research by the Pew Foundations in 2012, "One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling." Put more plainly, 20% (1 in 5) of the U.S. public claim no religious affiliation, and for those under age 30, the number swells to 1 in 3 (32%). As the Pew Foundations says, this is the highest percentage ever seen. It is becoming more "normal" for young adults to have no particular religious faith.
  • "Choice." I was listening to a podcast called "On Being," which seeks to talk about "the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit." (Remember, I'm trying to listen, right? If this is what many in culture are talking about, I want to hear what they are saying.) In an episode from May 2013, the poet Christian Wiman was interviewed about faith and doubt. The host of the program, Krista Tippett, in response to Wiman's own testimony of coming back to faith as an adult after a fundamentalist upbringing in Texas, says, "Your story to me is very much an example also of this phenomenon of our time where we choose these things, where we create our spiritual lives, which is really new, you know. You were given this religious world as a center of gravity in your childhood, which a lot of people were until just a decade or two ago." In other words, it has been the case in America where most of us grow up immersed in a Christianity that surrounded us like water does for fish. Tippett acknowledges that this is becoming less and less the case. She even cites recent conversations with 80 year-olds who are making spiritual quests.
So I guess I am not as convinced as Caryn Rivadeneira, who said (somewhat patronizingly, if you ask me), "Go do what you need to do; go where you need to go. God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat." I am not sure that our beloved Millennials will "come back" unless we listen well to them. More than any other time in our history, they have the complete freedom to walk away. 

Thus brings up the tension of whether we seek after the lost, as described in Jesus' parables in Luke 15, or shake the dust off our feet (Luke 9, among other places) and move on, knowing they will come back when they figure things out. And while it is tempting to use the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) as our model, I think that limits our vision. You recall that when the younger son wants to stomp off in independence and rebellion, the father in this parable allows the son to do so, all the while waiting for him to return, running feverishly down the road to greet him when he does. However, the other, older son gets very little press in this parable. He has remained, faithfully working for his father and following through on his obligations. Nevertheless, he is frustrated and dare I say it, rather cynical? As the Asbury Bible Commentary states
The second son is a self-righteous, law-abiding person, like Jesus' critics. And Jesus may well have told the parable primarily as a challenge to such people. The parable is a story without an ending. Although the younger son has been received into the house, the elder son stands outside complaining. It is not clear whether he accepts or rejects his father's invitation to step inside. But it is clear that the father extends the same love and mercy to both his sons.
The young adults I talk to nearly every day have a lot of spiritual interest, but as one told me last week, "our BS detectors are tuned really high, and we can tell when someone is being phony." And the second that happens, they are gone. Like the older son, I see them standing outside the church, complaining. Perhaps some see me as enabling or codependent, but I cannot just pat them on the head with an "oh-you're-just-being-a-snarky-Millennial" remark and let them go on their rebellious way, clucking my tongue knowingly.

My favorite line from RHE's post was this (speaking for Millennials):
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.
As the Asbury commentary says, "it is clear that the father extends the same love and mercy to both his sons." For me, the big question is not whether or not Rachel Held Evans is "right," but whether or not the church will remain engaged in conversation and relationship with young people, even in their wilderness wanderings. Put another way, what does it look like for us to keep extending love and mercy?

I especially ask that because right now what I see is that the church, by and large, is still trying to create some sort of "thing" (cafe, event, conference, book, whatever) that will draw in those darn Millennials. Like the prodigal son, the young people have to come back to them, and we are just upping the ante with our "if we build it, they will come" approach. Instead, I want to encourage believers to leave the brick-and-mortar buildings and wander out into the wilderness too, listening and learning. Why? Because that is what Jesus did. He did not sit at the synagogue every day and wait for people to come to him. He was always "on the road," healing and listening and touching and laughing and arguing and praying. I really do not like Rivadeneira's "God'll go with you, and we'll save you a seat" approach. Are we to sit smugly in our church pews, "knowing" we are right, letting others just wander off?

Do I think there has to be some level of personal responsibility for every person, where they have to pay attention to the conviction of their souls and repent, as did the prodigal son? You betcha. But I will say it again, I want to pay attention to Evans' assertion that for some churches, "Jesus has left the building." I have far more questions than answers, but I am at a point in my life where I believe the church needs to go back out into the "fields," just as John Wesley and George Whitefield did, reaching out to men and women, young and old, who will not enter our churches. I'm not just talking about the cynical Millennials; I'm also talking about those who live on the streets, the immigrants, the unemployed, the elderly, the professionals. 

May we emulate Jesus, who understood that "equality with God" was not something for him to cling to (Philippians 2:5-8). Instead, he shed his prestige and power and entered the lives of others. 




Friday, August 9, 2013

Sublime Summer

As I slowly shape a syllabus for the fall, finish up with my summer interns, and start fleshing out the bones of my calendar for the year, I panic a little. I am not ready for summer to end. The produce in season, the weather, the slightly more open schedule... all of it is so delightful!

I don't want to waste any lingering opportunities, so this week I tried to cram in as much as I could. I grabbed all the little grape tomatoes left on the vine in my teeny garden. Each one is a shiny and impossibly red orb of goodness. I am putting them in omelettes and tuna salads and veggie sandwiches. Tonight I roasted an eggplant into unbelievable creaminess for dinner. Yesterday I bought an extra half-pint of berries at the store, already mourning their absence.

Today I jumped on my bike and rode feverishly to the beach, not wanting to miss any chance of being outside. At night I am reading as much as I want because my mornings can start just a little bit slower. And finally, I'm trying my best to get a little writing done. As you probably know already, being creative is not something you can just turn on like a faucet. But I do not have time to really "get in the mood" or "find my muse." There are some things I want to write down or at least lay out for future chipping away.

So I have thinned out my schedule for the month, taking a break from some of the consulting I do week to week. I am reading a whole bunch of different things, then scratching down various thoughts and quotes and nuggets.

I'm also trying to figure out how to better integrate writing into my life on a more consistent basis. So as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm trying to learn from far better authors who have gone before me. Here are some of their wise words... though I haven't come to any conclusions yet as to writing looks like for me, their words are moving and motivating.


The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. Anais Nin

Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that... Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance... When you're writing, you're trying to find out something which you don't know. James Baldwin

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. William Faulkner

I can't imagine not writing. Writing simply is a way of life for me. William Goyen

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it. Hemingway

As a writer, I do more listening than talking. W. H. Auden called the first act of writing “noticing.” He meant the vision—not so much what we make up but what we witness. John Irving

If you persist in doing something, sooner or later  you will achieve it. It's just a matter of persistence -- and a certain amount of talent. Wm. Kennedy

I am compulsive about writing, I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for awhile, but then I need it. John Irving

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You are always concentrated on the inner thing. The moment one becomes aware of the crowd -- performs for the crowd -- it is spectacle. It is fichu (done for). Jean Cocteau

At the time of writing, I don't write for my friends or myself, either; I write for it, for the pleasure of it. Eudora Welty

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Hemingway

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Hemingway

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bibliophilia

I love to read. I prefer reading to watching a movie. When I prepare to go on vacation, I start an ambitious pile of things I will read on the trip, because I look as forward to getting unlimited time to read as I do the vacation itself.

If I enjoy what I'm reading, I can't put it down. I will read as I walk through the house, as I cook, as I brush my teeth, as I lay in bed, even when I am so tired that my eyes are watering from fatigue and lack of ability to keep focusing. Still I will read.

I decided to be an English major in college because I knew it would give me an excuse to read so much. There was one quarter when I took not one but two fiction classes, and had seventeen novels to read in ten weeks. Sure, I moaned a lot about how "hard" it was to get it all done, but secretly I loved it.

A rapidly fading delight in the world is the ability to wander through a used bookstore. With the advent of e-readers and the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores we are losing that endlessly lovely pastime of simply wandering through the aisles and happening upon something we would have otherwise not thought of. This seems like a definitive, culture-changing loss to me.

Somewhere along such aimless wanderings I picked up The Writer's Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the 20th Century's Preeminent Writers, edited by George Plimpton. It is a collection of insights taken from interviews with famous writers on their craft. I have hoarded it like a fine bottle of wine, occasionally looking at it and feeling especially creative by merely owning it.

Today I cracked it open. Already, I am wondering why I have waited so long! Only a few pages in, I am completely hooked. I will have to exercise great self-discipline to take it slow, because I can already tell it's a big sloppy feast for a reader like me.

Separated into the various aspects of writing, the first chapter is on reading. Enjoy these little nuggets:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Richard Steele
I average about five books a week... the normal length novel takes me about two hours. Truman Capote 
The books that you really love give the sense, when you first open them, of having been there. John Cheever 
(Referring to Hemingway's writing) I mean, they're perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes. Joan Didion 
Hemingway and I used to read the Bible to each other. He began it. We read separate little scenes. From Kings, Chronicles. We didn't make anything out of it -- the reading -- but Ernest at that time talked a lot about style. John Dos Passos

And my favorite one so far:


The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination. Elizabeth Hardwick

May this little post serve as a reminder that books are indeed a "great gift." Do not let yourself get too busy to not read. And now, back to my reading...



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Finding Your Way

Occasionally I get asked how I came to title my blog "Listening to My Life." The clue is given in the quote directly below the title, from Parker Palmer. I came across this lovely statement when I read one of Palmer's books, which ended up be a game-changer for me, titled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

There is not a month that goes by where I don't recommend this book to someone. Students freshly graduated from college who are asking the big "what's now?" questions, young adults in their late twenties or early thirties who are feeling stuck in a variety of ways, or peers who are surprised by the need to change (or restart) their careers as they enter the latter third of working life.

Invariably, their next question is "can I borrow your copy?" and I just smile because there is NO. PICKIN'. WAY. I am loaning out my copy. It's more like a journal at this point, after a few readings... I've written notes and underlines and dates and even a name or two in the margins!

I was reminded of all this by another quote from Palmer that I came across today:

“The power of a fully lived life or a truly learned mind is not a power to be sought or contrived. It comes only as we let go of what we possess and find ourselves possessed by a truth greater than our own.”

I enjoy Palmer's book so much because it is raw and authentic. He freely talks about his own failures, but not in a that ridiculous, "humblebrag" sort of way. Rather, he describes real failures and lapses in judgment. He demonstrates true remorse. He chronicles painful seasons of depression. His concise but purposeful language peeled away my defenses, and I finally faced "the reality of my own fear." (p. 26) While this was painful, it was also ultimately liberating, and launched me on the trajectory I am now on. Today's quote sums up that place very well... I have to admit that I feel like I am fully living life, and know this to be a great gift, rather than something I was able to conjure up. 

How did I arrive in this place? Short answer: the grace of God. Longer answer: a long and circuitous journey during which I s-l-o-w-l-y learned to heed the still, small voice of God prompting me this way and that. I have learned so much along the way, and I shared a few these things with my crop of summer interns in our training recently. 

In no particular order of importance, they are:
  1. Your calling is to someone, not something. In Ephesians 4:1 it says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” We must get rid of this prevailing notion that our identity is found in what we do. We must shed this Christiany tendency of thinking that we must have this crazy, blinding, writing-in-the-sky Damascus Road experience where our "calling" is given, and that anything else is living below God's passion. So much pressure! We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Period.
  2. Invite others whom you trust to help you understand your gifts. In all of my own ministry roles, I was asked to do them. People discerned things in me that I did not see in myself. In fact, I shy away from those who want to self-identify their gifts and calling. Discerning your gifts and the way you can serve can and should be a corporate experience, where your trusted community calls things out in you and commissions you for the task.
  3. Don’t look sideways. 1 Corinthians 12 is all about the various gifts of the body. All are valid, all are different. One of the big downfalls of Christian college graduates that I have observed is the comparison game. They all think they have to be "Indiana Jones for Jesus," arriving with flash and swagger, supposedly conquering some world problem or starting a non-profit. Sheesh. Don't compare yourself to others. God works through each of us in different ways.
  4. God doesn’t care what you do! Sure, I’m overstating to make my point. But in 1Cor 7:17 it says, “However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” This passage is primarily about marital and social status, framed with the belief that Jesus would be returning quickly, but nevertheless, the statement applies. Are you being faithful to God where you are? Why would changing your circumstances affect your ministry? May we be dissuaded from the myth that there is one single path that is God's will for your life. Love God now with all you've got, whatever you are doing, be it a gardener, a CEO, a new parent, unemployed. Our eternal job is to know God (John 17:3, John 6:28-29); everything else is temporary.
  5. Nothing is permanent. You may do one thing for a long time, then you may do something else… While I could go on a dandy rant about how much "kids these days" don't understand commitment, I want to also say that saying yes to something does not doom you to 35 years of the same damn thing, day after day. I have had 3 long-term jobs in my adult life (11 years, 15 years, and now 4.5 years). Do not be afraid that if you commit to something that you're chained to it for the rest of your days.
  6. Do what you want. I have known so many people in ministry, and one thing stands out to me – everyone who has lasted a long time in their role has totally wanted to do what they were doing. I believe God gave them that desire. We tend to think calling has to be something miserable, that you are dragged into it kicking and screaming. Let me be clear – I haven’t always been happy in the moment that I was doing something; but I have always wanted to do whatever I was doing, even when it was difficult. I’m not talking about feelings, I’m talking about convictions.
Concluding, I will quote another favorite writer, Frederick Buechner: "Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." How I pray those are freeing words for you.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Testify

As it says in Acts 20:24, "But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace." When a witness testifies in a trial, that person simply describes what they experienced... what they saw and heard with their own eyes.

With that on my mind, I want to testify as to what I have seen of God's goodness this week, framed by Psalm 146.


Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

May I never tire of thanking God for another day of life, for a roof over my head, for a full stomach, for a great family full of friends and fulfilling work, for faith itself.

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
    on that very day their plans perish.

This is a summer filled with conversations about career and future and identity as I work with college-aged interns... I regret the many years I spent in putting my "trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help." I believed the lie of this world, that we find security in material wealth, power, status and success, that who we are is what we do. Rather, I rejoice that these young adults are trying to figure out how to put their faith wholly in the Eternal One. They spur me on with their earnest questions and open hearts.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.

This week my home group was with our friends at Laundry Love again. I never fail to be humbled by the hardship of their stories and struggle. Too often we characterize folks like these as "bums" or "lazy." They are now individual people to me, not without fault certainly, but I cannot walk by them with a brush of the hand or an averted gaze. I am learning how to listen, how to care, how to pray and encourage.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

I spend time each week working with pastors all over, in various contexts and with a wide variety of experience. This week, I met with a married couple who are leading a Free Methodist church where there are services conducted each week in three separate languages. If that is not amazing enough, they were contacted by six international students from a local seminary who heard about their church through Yelp (God bless 21st century social media) and want to join their congregation because they love the diversity of their body and the united focus on Christ. As I spoke with this couple I felt like I tasted eternity: where prisoners are free, the blind regain sight, the hurting and lonely find homes, where there is no longer division and hate... instead, where shalom exists in fullness and there is wholeness and reconciliation.

The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!



May your eyes and ears be attentive to the many blessings around you. Testify.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Leadership? Part Two

I have no plans of posting a series titled What is Leadership? but sometimes I get inspired by something I read or experience, so I'm back at it.

This morning in Acts 15-16 I came across four quick snippets of leadership that made me smile and nod my head in affirmation. In Acts 15:36-41, we see disagreement between leaders:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

I sure have been in this situation a time or twenty... two strong-willed leaders hold their ground, and have to part company. I love this because first of all, it's in the Bible. This isn't a glossed-over, everything-was-puppies-and-rainbows-all-the-time story about how the church began. We see things as they happened. Secondly, it's an example of how many of our decisions as leaders do not fall within a zero-sum, black-and-white-, right/wrong construct. Here we see there were two different views of what to do with Mark as a leader; Barnabas (who had the gift of encouragement) wants to give Mark another chance, and Paul has had enough. So they part ways, and take the gospel in different directions.

Next, in Acts 16:1-5 we meet Timothy for the first time, who ends up being mentored by Paul. Again, I like what we see here about leadership:
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

In keeping with the unlikely profiles of the disciples as leaders, we meet Saul (later Paul) in Acts 9, and here we meet Timothy, who is a Jew because he has a Jewish mother, but a sort of "half-breed" as well by having a Greek father. My friend Christena Cleveland wrote articulately about the varied cultural understandings of leadership, so I don't need to really expand on that. Suffice it to say, Timothy isn't a "superman" sort of leader. Nevertheless, he was "well spoken of by the believers." A crucial element of leadership that I look for is confirmation of calling by the community. Far too often I meet people who essentially self-appoint themselves as pastors and leaders. Not so fast, tiger. If someone approaches me and tells me they feel called to be a pastor (this happens fairly often, believe it or not), the first thing I ask is "Great. Have you started any Bible studies?" They don't have to be Joe Charisma, but they need to understand the consistent, hard work it takes to make stuff happen ~ and have others confirm that they have the gifts and graces to continue.

What follows soon after is one of my favorite stories in scripture. In Acts 16:11-16 we read of the conversion of a businesswoman and God-seeker named Lydia:
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

In 2005 I visited the site outside of Philippi where this supposedly happened. My heart swelled with joy and no small amount of pride at "meeting" a woman whose legacy I carry on some 2,000 years later. Lydia went on to host the nascent church of Philippi in her home. Let's not forget that this was the first church in Europe. Whenever that lovely conversation bubbles up about whether or not women can be leaders in the church, I point to this passage as one of my favorite examples of how it has happened from the beginning.

What can I conclude from this section? That leadership is human, but infused with God's Spirit. It includes disagreement, no easy answers, and possibilities for anyone. Recently I plugged the word "leadership" into Amazon's search engine, and over 100,000 titles came up! But the world's understanding of leadership is not the template we blindly follow as we lead God's church. May we follow the Spirit first and foremost, in small and consistent ways, as we press forward.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fulfilled

Though I didn't intend this to happen, June has ended up being a whirlwind for me so far. Since June 4th I have been to Azusa, Seattle, Santa Monica, Rancho Cucamonga, and Lake Elsinore for meetings and speaking commitments. Yes, I am tired. (Though after 10 comatose hours of sleep last night, I'm feeling much better.)

I am especially grateful for all the dear people I met along the way. After all these years, I still never tire of the experience of walking into a room for a message or meeting (knowing almost no one) and after spending some time together, leave knowing I have made some great new friends.

This was especially the case after this weekend, where I was with a great group of women who had invited me to speak for their women's retreat. As I started putting together my four messages, I realized I could string all my points together using words that started with F. Yep -- that's cheesy, maybe even gimicky. But honestly, I think it worked out, in that it helped each of us to better remember the things we talked about:

  • How did the disciples Follow Jesus?
  • What does this look like for me as a Female?
  • How am I held back by my Fear of Failure?
  • What does it mean to be a Friend of God?
  • As we build our friendship with God, we receive the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, out of which ministry flows.
  • When we discover this way of life, we are truly set Free to live life the way it was intended.
Admittedly, I had some fun with them as we kept talking about these "F words"! But it was also a great privilege to speak and then lead discussions with the entire group as we listened and learned from one another. I was blessed by everyone's authenticity and earnest desire to grow, and even more, by their willingness to be pushed hard in our last meeting, where I left them with the simple question: "What is keeping you from this freedom?"

Though not initially in the schedule, I felt it imperative that we follow up this poignant question with some prayer ministry, where individual women could share their response to this question with someone whom they trusted, who would then in turn pray over them. I cannot deny that my heart ached as I heard struggles and tears reverberate through the room. We had just spent time in the whole chapter of Galatians 5, and I kept thinking of verse 1 over and over as I heard women whisper words of prayer, pain and fear:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We ended up our time with an absolutely lovely time of prayer and consecration, where women could come forward for a blessing and anointing, each receiving a large and colorful pashmina, symbolizing the "mantle of leadership" being passed on to them. The lead pastor blessed each woman with these words: "May you follow Christ as a female, without fear of failure, instead pursuing friendship with God, out of which fruit will come as you freely lead." 

Earlier in the day, the director of the women's ministry reminded us of the quote I have posted on this blog, which was entirely appropriate to our time together: "What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!" The longer I live, the more I hear of personal and corporate suffering, and I am so grieved. So many are abused, oppressed, wounded, addicted, misled. Thankfully, I rejoice in the healing power of the gospel, as described by the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. (vss 8-10)

How grateful I am for these opportunities to serve and lead others into true freedom. Sure, I am tired after all of these travels, but I am also so Fulfilled.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Doubt and the In-Between

I love listening to a variety of podcasts when I ride my bike: great storytelling, fascinating journalism, round-the-horn discussions on politics and trending topics, long and probing interviews, new music... and truth be told, a little sportstalk too.

This one caught my attention the other day: "This hour, we walk the tightrope between doubt and certainty, and wonder if there's a way to make yourself at home on that razor's edge between definitely...and not so sure."

It followed the story of a geologist who had to face the fact that one day it hit him: "I don't believe in God anymore."

This didn't scare me. In fact, I have variations of this conversation quite frequently. As a pastor friend of mine put it recently in an email exchange: "We increasingly are doing ministry in a place where the people are interested in Jesus but not that interested in the traditional ways churches have expressed their service to Him.  This requires new thoughts and new methods as we bring the holy love of God into the world." Amen to that.

I won't give away the story told in the podcast - it is definitely worth a listen. But I'm not giving anything away by saying it follows the winding road of someone's journey with doubt. I mentioned in the post previous to this one that I am reading a fascinating book by Christian Wiman on this very topic. I read this passage this week:
Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward— or at least outward— even in your lowest moments.
He contrasts this sort of authentic searching with "an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith," which he describes as "static and self-enthralled." I like the way he describes that, because when I have conversations with people who have many questions about faith and meaning of life and suffering and grief and all that, I engage with them according to the posture they take. If people want to banter and debate about the unknowability of such questions, I do not linger long. The abstractions of such talk does not interest me all that much, and experience has shown me that they are not really looking for conclusive answers.

But hear me out: I am not saying that I only want to nail down hard and fast explanations either, because I think those are hard to come by as well. I like the way Wiman puts it -- "honest doubt" keeps drilling down for adequate insight into the big questions of life. It cannot rest. Rather than enjoying the sound of its own voice as it rattles off quotable and snarky quips, honest doubt wrestles with questions. I can remain in those conversations as long as people want to talk.

I think Jesus did too. This week, as I was reading in the Gospel of John, I came across this seemingly insignificant detail. Jesus has been crucified and is dead, still hanging on the cross:
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. (John 19:38-39)
Nicodemus! I flipped back to chapter 3, where this Jewish leader comes to Jesus under cover of darkness, with his questions and doubts, after having heard Jesus teach in public earlier. Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is some sort of wise teacher with a new authority, and Jesus responds with some enigmatic words about being "born from above" (where we get the all-too-abused phrase "born again") and Nicodemus is baffled: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?" Jesus says some more strange and exciting and disturbing things and Nicodemus responds with a simple question: “How can these things be?”

This strikes me as an example of the "honest doubt" that Wiman describes. And when I came upon this lovely little detail in chapter 19, where Nicodemus came to bury Jesus' body with Joseph of Arimathea, "who was a disciple of Jesus," I immediately thought, "how I wish I knew the story in between!" Wouldn't you love to know more about Nicodemus' journey of questions, doubt, and faith between chapters 3 and 19? It reminded me that we are all on a long and winding road, and I have learned that the story isn't over when someone expresses some life-altering questions and concerns. (Here's another plug for listening to that podcast on doubt -- it captures this process really well.)

May we be patient listeners, and always keep the "in-between" in sight. I am partnering with a great group of people to think through how we meet people where they are, in their skepticism and frustration, rather than write them off as "lost." Instead, we want to join people in the journey of honest doubt.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Together

A relaxing weekend full of fun, rest, reading, and recreation was topped off by something work-related, but so fun nevertheless. I have just started my third summer with interns for the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, and tonight we had our first online training session. After far too much goofing around (and I can't complain about it, because I participated in it!) eleven interns and myself got down to business through Go-To Meeting, even though we were spread out from Santa Barbara to Long Beach to Escondido to Barstow. I love technology...

One of the books we are reading together is titled This We Believe by Will Willimon, and we started with these words from the Introduction: 

"Do not attempt theology at home! You can't do faithful Christian theology on your own— thinking about God is a group activity." 

We spent some time talking through this thought in light of what we would be doing together each week in our training. It set the stage for a tremendous hour and a half of spirited discussion (and laughter, of course) around several different topics. I was buzzing with energy when we signed off! It is part of why I really enjoy working with young adults -- their energy, questions, and earnest hope is so contagious. And it definitely keeps me feeling young.

I thought of our collective exercise in God-talk as I spent some time afterward chipping away at a whole other book entirely, one that has really got me wrapped around its finger. It's called The Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. I'm quite positive I'll be writing more about this book soon. I cannot even begin to sum up what it says, and it would be a great disservice to try. I will say that Wiman is saying things about faith, doubt, belief, grief and God that I have never encountered. Part of it could be due to the fact that though this is a book of essays, he is primarily a poet. His gift with language is frankly stunning for me at times. It is both thrilling, and daunting. Take a risk and read it for yourself. I really don't think you'll regret it.

ANYWAY... these two statements from the book hit me tonight:

Solitude is an integral part of any vital spiritual life, but spiritual experience that is solely solitary inevitably leads to despair.

In fact, as I've said, this is how you ascertain the truth of spiritual experience: it propels you back toward the world and other people, and not simply more deeply within yourself.

Chew on those for a few moments.

Tonight, during our intern training, I mentioned that the plan to "think about God as a group activity" makes sense especially in light of the fact that the Bible is what I call a "plural document." In other words, the Bible was not written to individuals; essentially, all of the "you's" in the Bible are in second-person plural. It is a community document, to be read (and listened to) in collective worship and study. Certainly, we benefit greatly as we read the Bible on our own. But we can never forget that it is addressed, from start to finish, to the people of God. I illustrated my point by taking a well-known passage from Philippians, asking them to hear it as it was written, addressing the entire church at Philippi:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:3-6)

We all agreed that we have received those lovely words in a card or inscription in a book... and while they are personally inspiring, they take on incredible meaning when we think about them in terms of a community of believers. Because then, the inspiration comes in being so connected with God's people as he weaves and binds us together in this crazy process of growth and partnership. As Wiman tells us, we are moved from despair to truth, life and hope. Glory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What is Leadership?

I have had a great week, and it's only Wednesday! On Monday I finished launching eleven summer interns into ten-week ministry projects that are located from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and then coached a team leader in the Midwest who is guiding a ten-member national team doing social media and all forms of digital communication. On Tuesday I met for several hours with a married couple who are co-pastoring a 108 year-old church in Los Angeles that they just moved to... The church started as historically Anglo, and now has three different services meeting on campus every Sunday: one in Spanish, one in English and one in both Cantonese and Mandarin! Today I met with a woman who is mentoring youth pastors all over the Los Angeles area, and then met on Skype with two pastors in Seattle area.

The ages of these people range from 20 to 45, but they all have one thing in common: they are leaders. I love identifying, raising up, training and walking alongside such leaders. Not only does it bless me to hear about their ministries and challenges; it also keeps me sharp in my own learning and growth.

Despite years of experience, I know I still have much to learn. So I am a sponge for all manner of books, articles, seminars and wise mentors. But last night I was reminded that Jesus is still my best teacher. In our home group we spent some time reading through Luke 9:1-17, where Jesus sends out the disciples to start learning how to minister. As it says in the opening lines, he "gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal." Sheesh -- no big deal, right?

After reading this passage on our own and sharing our impressions in our study, one person pointed out something I had failed to notice, that really blew my mind... she noted how the disciples are described in the whole section:

  • Vs. 1: "Then Jesus called the twelve together..."
  • Vs. 10: "On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done."
  • Vs. 12: "The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him..."
  • Vs. 14: "And he said to his disciples..."
It is important to read through the passage yourself to see what happens, but in a nutshell: the twelve are sent out to extend the ministry of Jesus by casting out demons, healing diseases and proclaiming the kingdom of God; the apostles come back with glowing reports of what happened; the twelve are tired after a long day and want the crowds of thousands to be sent away; and the disciples are schooled in what it means to truly care for people.

It would be fun to really dig in and do some extended word study on each term. I do know that the "apostles" are the "sent ones," and the "disciples" are "learners" or "pupils." In our group we enjoyed seeing the arc of the disciples' leadership development in a very short span of time -- they went from being empowered and sent out to being humbled and needing to learn... again and again and again.

I'm here to report that, through repeated trial and error, I have discovered that this cycle will never end! As we grow in faith we are empowered and sent out, but we will stumble and trip as we go. The question is not if, but when

Surround yourself with people who want to be apostles and disciples. Learn from them, learn with them. And study the life of Jesus together for the best training possible. 

(For further study and learning, I have also grown from the pursuit of spiritual disciplines. Here is a set of articles on the twelve classic spiritual disciplines that I wrote last year...)