Friday, October 28, 2005

Celebration of discipline 6&7-Simplicity & Solitude

I have combined my thoughts on chapters 6&7 because I needed to catch up. But as I went through Foster's chapters on Simplicity and Solitude (silence) I realized it makes sense to discuss them together. Foster's take on Simplicity and solitude comes down to a matter of trust.

Trust as it relates to Simplicity seems, well, a fairly simple concept. We entrust our possessions to God. We trust that God will provide, we trust that God will care for our stuff and we trust that if we give our stuff away God will honor our act of sacrifice.

Trust, as it relates to solitude, IMHO is a more complicated matter. It is trust indeed that that allows us to embark into solitude. Foster tells us that solitude and silence go hand in hand. Here is where the trust comes in: "We are so accustomed to relying upon our words to manage and control others. If we are silent who will take control? God will take control; but we will never let Him take control until we trust Him. Silence is intimately related to trust."

So...Do I trust God? With my possessions? I have good days and bad days. When money is tight I am much more likely to say, "okay God I'll take the wheel for a little bit."
This is one where I could really see Jesus looking at me and saying, like he said to the disciples, "Are you still dull?" He has provided for my family in miraculous ways, time and time again. And yet I still feel like I need control over my finances.

Do I trust God? With my silence? When it is just me and God, I have grown to really enjoy these times of silence. More to Foster's point, however, when there are others involved I am much more likely to break the silence. I attribute part of this to leaders I have worked and served under up to this point. Each of them very dynamic, outspoken, often opinionated men who lead with their words. At some level, I feel compelled to a more verbose leadership style. It often feels awkward and not at all my style. The rest is exactly like Foster describes. I often speak to control and influence those around me. I speak to make sure people leave me with the impression I desire. I need to trust God with my Silence.
If I can do that, I think I could actually be a more effective leader, husband, friend, father. If I were to concentrate on my silence I would be likely to "say what needs to be said when it needs to be said." I would hear more of what people are trying to say to me. People might leave with the impression that God desired rather than the one I desire.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Darth Jared

We celebrated my younger son Jared's 4th B-day this week. It was a Star Wars birthday; the gifts, the decorations, and the cupcakes. (Gail is an accomplished cake/cupcake decorator.)

The highlight of the b-day festivities was the Darth Vader Voice Changer. The thing spouts out quotes from the movie, does the heavy breathing bit and morphs your voice into a James Earl Jones replica.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Thougts on "Please no more doing church for them"

Ryan Bolger has started an excellent discussion on creating church services for "spiritual seekers." His premise is that we shouldn't because {my really rough paraphrase} :

  1. inevitably we will screw it up
  2. it defines following Christ as an hour a week
  3. it perpetuates an us and them mentality (both sacred vs secular and laity vs clergy)
  4. perpetuates a McDonald's form of spirituality (producer/consumer)
A couple of themes emerge from the comments:

  1. Total agreement with Ryan's points
  2. Why does a church service have to be either/or
This one, might be my favorite, as it hits very close to my suburban home:

What would it look like to be missional, that is, to apply your principles, in rural Wisconsin, (where IÂ’m from) or the average suburb? It might look more like what too many on the emerging church scene deride than they would like to imagine.
Posted by: David

I live in the cliche that is Trumbull, CT. A suburb, in the truest sense of the word. For the last 2-3 years I have struggled with totally resonating with the hopes, dreams and concerns of the emerging/missional church while living and ministering in the stereotypical context of the seeker church. As I wrestle with this paradox, I am drawn back to this thought from Ryan:

What Christians need to do is create meaningful worship through bringing their very own lives to God. Worship must reflect the culture of the community that is currently part of the church...Instead of mimicking other church cultures, the community collectively brings their own idiosyncratic ways of life to God, whatever they may be.
As I have contemplated this post, what excites me, what has eased my sense of struggle is, our little community is emerging in its own right. I think someone would be hard pressed to label Crossroads as seeker-sensitive or emerging or whatever. What that says to me is we truly are "reflecting the culture of our community," we are bringing our "indiosyncrasies," whether they be seeker-oriented or missionally-oriented, to God.

I am indeed grateful for this conversation and the ensuing mental gymnastics it inspired. Many thanks to Ryan and all who contributed.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Numb3rs !@$%#!

I have had conversations with youth guys and gals from around the country that just flat out make me sad and angry all at the same time. One youth pastor friend told me he received this direction from his Sr. Pastor: "Don't worry about spiritual development get more kids to your program. You can worry about the spiritual growth stuff later" No joke, that was a real conversation.

I talked to a couple of guys who run regional youth ministries for a megachurch. They have to call or email their boss the day after their programs and report attendance numbers.

I used to be a part of a ministry where we would brag about squeezing 100 kids into somebody's living room.

I run a youth ministry now where, on a big numbers night, we get 30 students.

I have never been more convinced that numbers just don't matter. The only number that matters is 1.
That 1 student who would never darken the door of a church but shows up at frisbee every week...
That 1 student, who is so hyper and obnoxious, you have to sit on him to get him to stay still...
That 1 student who steps up and leads...
That 1 student who shows up at your house because there is no one at his house who cares...
That 1 student who says thanks you are doing a good thing...
That 1 student who reaches out to his friends because somebody reached out to him...
That 1 student who says I'm never gonna believe any of this God stuff...
That 1 student who finally gets it...

I'll take that 1 student over the 100 anyday.

Celebration of Discipline 5-Study

Important bullets from the Discipline of study:

Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting "high on Jesus" will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.

What we study determines what kind of habits are to be formed.

Arrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive.

Remember that the key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books but experiencing what we do read.

Study produces joy.
Each of the above caused me to stop and think but what really captured my attention was Foster's discussion of the study of nonverbal books. Foster suggests that we devote time to the study of nature, relationships, technology, culture, institutions and ourselves. All of the above, seem to me worthwhile ventures. I was, however, taken aback by the thought of studying myself. At first it struck as mere navel gazing. In light of Foster's further discussion it seemed a more valuable and daunting endeavor. Foster suggests, "We should learn the things that control us. Observe your inner feelings and mood swings. What controls your moods? What can you learn about yourself from that?"

The two things that jump to mind as controlling factors in my life are my circumstances and other people's opinions; the results of growing up in the home of an alcoholic. Perfectionist tendencies and people pleasing can often bear way too much influence on my actions and decisions. A friend helped me make the connection between my family of origin and these two behaviors. (Foster's point about live discussions as part of the study process played out)
I know these factors exist. I even have an idea of when they are most likely to come into play. What I still need to learn, to study more on, is how to let the Holy Spirit work in, through, around, and hopefully instead of perfectionism and people pleasing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Stories from St Bernard's

We got home from Louisiana late Saturday night amidst a downpour, the likes of which, I have never seen. I'm not sure what that is... irony? a reminder of where we just were? I don't know but it struck me as odd.

I met so many incredible people while working in St Bernard's Parish. The first person I met was Pastor Randy Millet. Randy lived in St Bernard's all his life. He lost everything, as did everyone else who lives in the Parish. He lost his house, his church, his community, he lost an aunt and uncle, whose bodies he found. And yet through it all he cannot be kept away from the people and the parish that he loves so much. Randy is the man running the relief center where we were working. As people came to the center, many of them returning from their homes for the first time since Katrina hit, Randy would greet them and through tear stained eyes he would give them a smile and a hug. In Randy Millet, the people of St Bernard's, find hope and strength. As we were preparing to leave on Friday Randy pulled me aside and thanked me for our work and compassion. I told him I wished we could do more. And then get this....he asked me what he could do for me.
As we hugged, Randy said, "Go home and tell our story, people need to know what is going on down here. Please tell our story."

I met a woman named Tina. She is now housing eleven members of her family who lost their homes in her temporary two bedroom apartment. Her family ranges in age from a grand-niece who is two months old to her mom who, I'm guessing is seventy-something. I carried some water to her car for her. She said "Thank you baaaby," as only a woman from New Orleans could.
I helped her mom June, get into the car. June told me how proud she was of Tina. All I could do was agree with her. June looked at me and thanked me for being there. If anyone has right to be bitter or angry it was Tina and June. They weren't. They were sad and heartbroken over their loss but they were the most gracious and grateful people I have ever met.

I met a man named Gene. Gene and his dog Humbug decided not to evacuate and brave the storm from their home. Gene, a proud 76 year old man, with a healthly swath of white hair told us his story. On the day Katrina hit, Gene told us he fell asleep on his couch for about an hour. He woke up and put his feet down on the carpet and thought little Humbug had had an accident. Then he realized his entire living room was under three inches of water. He told us, with a big smile, he knew Humbug wasn't a big enough dog to make that big a mess. The water in his home rose quickly. Gene and Humbug retreated to his attic then to his rooftop where he survived on Ensure for the next 8 days. Gene told us he got tired of waiting. So he attached Humbug's leash and they swam for it.
I said "you did what?"
Gene replied, "Oh it wasn't a big deal, I was a great swimmer in college. We just swam from rooftop to treetop to a floating piece of fence and just kept doing that until someone rescued us."
Gene told us how he was being treated like a celebrity, his senator even called to wish him well. Again with a big sly smile he told us how he kind of liked all the attention he was getting.

I met a man named Sam. This one started off a little rough. We loaded up the suburban with food, water and safety gear. We set off into the neighborhoods and were offering our supplies to the folks who were either working on their homes, meeting insurance adjusters or just trying to retrieve anything that might have survived the hurricane. We wanted to take pictures to show everyone back home just had bad things were. But, we also wanted to be sensitive to the people whose lives had been turned upside down. There was a crew from the power company working on a house. Two of the crew, or so we thought, were leaning against a vehicle taking a break. The house behind the crewmen had a sailboat resting on its roof. We slowed down to take a picture. It turns out that one of the crewmen was Sam and it was on his house where the boat had come to rest.
He said, "that will be a $1.50."
And we all kind of chuckled.
He said, "no really, you're gonna get that for free, that'll be a buck-fifty."
Realizing he wasn't joking, Todd, one of the guys in the back seat of the suburban, leaned out his window and offered him something to eat and drink. We stopped and talked for 1/2 an hour or so in front of his house. We talked about the damage to his house and his neighbor's houses. We talked about what he did before Katrina hit. We told him where the relief center was set up and ask him to please come there and take a rest and get a hot meal. He said "okay...maybe" and we parted ways.
Sam came by the relief center 3 or 4 times in the next two days. During one of those visits, Karen, one of our team, apologized to Sam for taking the photo of his house. She told him how she wanted to be able to show everyone back home the extent of the devastation. She told him how she hoped the pictures might encourage others to come down and help.
Sam replied, "if that's what it takes I'll put my house on the internet, I'll invite people into my living room so they can see first-hand how bad things are."

There are many, many more stories to tell. There are many, many more people who need someone to listen to them and to offer them a cold bottle of water. It's the volunteer relief workers who are doing these things and who will be needed to keep doing these things, and to help with the clean-up and to help with the rebuilding. If you are thinking about volunteering please check out one of these sites.

To help out in the Gulf Region:
Samaritan's Purse
American Red Cross

To help out in your local area:
America's Second Harvest

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

St Bernard's Parish, LA

There is too much of everything to describe what is going on down here. We have been working a relief center in St Bernards Parish, described to us as the most devastated part of the greater New Orleans area, that has been opened back up. We unload trucks, hand out food and water, pray with a few people and listen to their stories. The people's stories of heroism, sadness, devastation and loss are heartwrenching. We all have pictures but they still won't explain what it is really like. the whole thing is very surreal soldiers with M-16, helicopters, the scenery is what I imagine a war zone would look like. Trucks where boats should be, boats where trucks should be, boats on rooftops.

We went out into some of the neighborhoods today to hand out food, water, gloves, and breathing masks for people who were trying to salvage remnants of their homes. I have tried to stay away from the media coverage of this thing but I wish the media would go into some the neighborhoods and try to capture what these folks are going through...still.

What has amazed me the most though, is the overwhelmingly positive attitudes and gratitude of the people of New Orleans.

... needs here are still overwhelming. We have been told donations and volunteers are down.

...more when I return next week.