Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vacation Bible School at Chain of Lakes

I can’t wait for the first Vacation Bible School that Chain of Lakes Church is offering to the community. We are meeting at St. Joseph Catholic Church (171 Elm Street) in Lino Lakes on August 12 & 13 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. We will be providing dinner both nights, along with games, crafts and a lot of fun. Vacation Bible School is FREE and open to youth ages three to fifth grade.

We are using the “Camp Edge” curriculum from Cokesbury. The two stories we will explore in Bible School are Joshua’s trek to the Promised Land and the Trek to the Upper Room.

Vacation Bible School is an excellent way for families to get a taste of what our newly forming congregation is like.

I am praying for a decent turnout of children at Vacation Bible School. We have approximately 10 children in the Core Group of our church. If they come and they all bring one friend, we will have a good-sized group.

To register for Bible School, call the church office—651-528-7321

I can’t help but share a special thanks to St. Joseph Catholic Church for their hospitality in letting us use their space for FREE.

I am thrilled that most of our adult volunteer positions for Vacation Bible School have been filled. The Spirit is working!!

Please keep the first Vacation Bible School of Chain of Lakes Church in your prayers!
My family is going to Texas for a few days to visit Amy's son, Drew and his family. I'll resume blogging on Tuesday, August 4.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vikings blogger contest

The Star Tribune is sponsoring a Vikings blogger contest. They are soliciting blogs on questions about the Vikings and then choosing one person to write a blog during the season. I took the bait and entered the contest. The following is my entry. I'm replying to the question, Evaluate the progress of coach Brad Childress. What does he need to do in his fourth year to warrant a contract extension? We were required to write a blog in 250 words or less. The following is my submission. What you do think? Do I have a chance? Or are my prospects about the same as the Vikings' prospects to win the Super Bowl>

I’ve watched the Vikings’ fall short ever since Joe Kapp cried out “40 for 60.” Brad Childress has followed a long tradition of decent but unspectacular Viking coaches. Childress doesn’t have to be spectacular to warrant a contract extension, but he has to prove he can win a big game.

In Childress Zygi Wilf hired someone who wasn’t going to embarrass our Minnesota sensibilities. We don’t have to worry about a “Love Boat” or wonder if Childress is going to criticize his kicker on talk radio immediately after an emotional loss. We get it—the guy is a professional act. But even Minnesotans can’ tolerate vanilla forever. Okay, the guy isn’t Bud Grant—he said so himself—but Childress hasn’t convinced me he can outcoach his opponent when the season is on the line.

Childress has given us three seasons of .500 football. I’ll give him the first season as a mulligan. But in the last two Childress slipped when he had the opportunity to take us some place special. Two years ago the Vikings laid an egg against the Redskins and missed the playoffs; last year the Vikings made the playoffs, but laid an egg against the Eagles. In classic Vikings’ tradition Childress disappointed when it counted.

I have no doubt that Childress will be competent against the teams he should beat. Win in a big spot—and this Vikings’ fan will be in your corner.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Racial profiling

When I drive in my car and see a police car my first glance is at my speedometer. That’s how it should be. I don’t wonder if I’m going to be stopped because of the color of my skin.

But that’s not how it is in some parts of America. We elected a African-American President, but race still is a prism through which we view life.

I don’t have statistics on Racial Profiling, but there is no doubt in my mind that it exists. So I can’t help but look at the recent arrest of Dr. Louis Gates through the prism of racial profiling.

The issue of race immediately entered the events surrounding Gates’ arrest when the woman who called the police told James Crowley, the arresting officer, that she saw two black men with backpacks on the porch. It makes sense to me that Gates would react so strongly when a police officer asked Gates for personal identification while Gates' after Gates tried to enter his own home. In Gates’ mind he had only been trying to open a jammed door after being gone in China. Why should he have to produce identification when he was standing in his own home?

From reading the reports of the event it’s obvious that Gates acted out of anger. But it’s not against the law to be angry in your own home.

This incident is not about the exact specifics of what happened on Louis Gates’ porch—it’s about racial profiling. What happened on that porch has happened in thousands of other locations in our country. Gates understood this; President Obama understood this—this is why he responded so strongly to the incident in his press conference last week—though his use of the word, “stupid” to describe the actions of the Cambridge Police Department were regrettable.

Until men stop being arrested because of the color of their skin, it doesn’t matter how many African-American politicians we elect—we won’t enter a post-racial society.

I applaud James Crowley for suggesting to President Obama that Obama, Gates, and him have a beer at the White House to discuss what happened. It’s biblical to talk to your accusers face-to-face.

The journey to some sort of reconciliation can take a million steps. Honest conversation behind closed doors is a better way for the participants to work towards some sort of reconciliation and if not that, understanding. It’s important for the rest of us to realize that race will always be a prism through which we view the world. For that prism to stop staining our country we need more light than heat.

Since I wrote this blog, news reports have stated that the woman who called the police did not mention the race of the suspects; however the Police Report did report that race of the suspects.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Daily Prayer

Last week I shared a story in my blog about how I received a nudge in my prayer time to start reading John Calvin's Institutes again. At the end of that posting I shared that I would keep folks posted on how it was going.

I’ve stayed current for two weeks; I take about ten minutes when I first come to the office to download the reading of the day and to plow through it. The web site is here:

In today’s reading Calvin posed a question that grabbed me, “Is prayer at times dependent upon our passing mood?”

There are few subjects that generate my interest more than prayer. I enjoy talking about prayer, writing about it, preaching about it, and teaching about it.

Calvin’s question is just as relevant in the 21st century as it is in the 16th century. If you are reading this blog, take a moment and reflect on the question, “is prayer at times dependent upon our passing mood?”

Since none of us are God the answer for all of us has to be, “yes.”

Calvin’s question leads to a deeper one that I’d briefly like to explore, “Is the practice of our faith dependant on our feelings?”

I still believe that one of the best ways to grow in our faith is to have a daily time of prayer—a minimum of 10 minutes a day, every day. I started this practice in seminary. While I was attending a seminar on prayer at a Youth Ministry conference, I suddenly looked at the person with whom I was attending the seminar and out-of-the-blue said, “I’m willing to pray for 10 minutes a day if you are. Can we challenge each other to do this for 30 days?”

Both of us took the challenge, and my daily prayer life hasn’t stopped.

I’m not at all trying to be prideful about my prayer life; I have a long ways to go. My intention is to encourage everyone to get beyond our feelings and develop the routine of a daily prayer life.

I know of many of the objections to a daily prayer life—I know them because I’ve encountered them! The key for me is to pray at the same time every day—to develop the routine of prayer. My morning routine is the same—get up early, take a shower, make coffee, then read the Bible and pray. Just as I can’t imagine going to work without taking a shower, I can’t imagine going to work without spending time in prayer.

I certainly experience times when I don’t want to pray—when my passing mood would lead me to skip it. The routine helps me overcome my feelings.

My prayer life looks vastly different than it did five years ago—it has changed because over time my prayers become stale. Keeping fresh is one of the challenges of a long-term prayer life.

I give thanks that I still experience refreshment from prayer. Just this morning I was sharing a concern with God—one that woke me up in the middle of last night. As I was praying over it I received the impression not to worry about it—that things would work out. I took that as a word from the Lord. I was in a better place after I prayed than before it.

If you don’t have a regular prayer life, try it for two weeks. Find a time in your day to pray and read Scriptures for ten minutes. The benefits are worth it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Enjoy a Picnic!

This Friday, July 24th our Emerging Community is having a picnic at my wife, Amy, and my new home in Blaine, 2138 129th Court NE. Our new church hasn’t had an event since our Blessing of the Animals on June 28th, so I am very much looking forward to getting together.

Since I started as Organizing Pastor we’ve had three groups make up our newly forming church:
Steering Committee They function as the Session of our newly forming church. They are responsible for creating the culture of the church—our Purpose Statement, Core Values, Vision. They also have the authority to make all other important decisions for our congregation. The Church Development Team of our Presbytery has graciously given us two people to serve on our Steering Committee. We now have two Ministry Teams that serve under the Steering Committee.
Emerging Community This is made up of people who more or less have made a commitment to our congregation. We met weekly during Lent at a home studying “The Jesus I Never Knew.” The purpose of the Emerging Community is to grow as a spiritual community.
Fellowship Events These are events where people can get a taste of what our community is like. We encourage people from our Emerging Community to invite their unchurched friends to our Fellowship events. Some of the events we’ve had are “Blessing of the Animals,” “Meet the Pastor,” “Agape Feast,” and the “?Why” series.

This structure—which is not at all cast into stone—has guided our life together so far at Chain of Lakes Church.

The picnic on Friday is an opportunity for our Emerging Community to come together again. I sent an invitation to everyone who has attended an event in our newly forming congregation—20 families.

At the picnic we’ll have some fellowship time, maybe play a game or two, have some fun stuff for the kids, do a little bit of planning, and just enjoy our time together. I think my parents are even coming. Amy & I had previously invited them to spend the weekend with us—they’ll be able to enjoy the fellowship of our Emerging Community.

Whether you are part of our Emerging Community or not, would you take some time to pray for our picnic? Can’t wait until Friday!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Plagarizing sermons

Yesterday, the Star Tribune ran a front-page story about the ethics of preachers using previously preached sermons. I’m not sure what prompted the Star Tribune to put a story about this issue on the front page of its paper. The link to the story is here:

This issue isn’t new. Tom Long wrote an article in the Christian Century on the same issue two years ago. That link is here:

Pulpit plagiarism is not new—but I guess because of the Internet the practice is spreading.

Long summarized the issues much better than the article in the Star Tribune.

A couple of his nuggets touched me:
“… good bit of clarity is achieved, I think, when we keep two factors in focus. The first is truthfulness. "Plagiarism," writes Richard A. Posner in The Little Book of Plagiarism, "is a species of intellectual fraud." Posner goes on to name the two key ingredients of fraud in every act of plagiarism: one, somebody copies something and then claims ("whether explicitly or implicitly, and whether deliberately or carelessly") that these words are his or her original composition; and two, this deception causes the readers (or hearers) of these words to act differently than they would if they possessed the truth.”

Long concluded the article by sharing this:
“Preachers who strive to tell the truth, who seek to honor the communion of saints, who desire to maintain the trust of the faithful community—that is to say, preachers with ethical integrity—will wrestle with these questions and make the best decisions they can. Pulpit plagiarists, however, in the name of expediency, will grab what they wish wherever they can find it and claim it as their own. Their stolen sermons may occasionally sparkle, but in the end they will have spread the banquet table of God with the empty calories of homiletical fast food.”

The closest I’ve come to plagiarizing is when I used three points from a Rick Warren Easter sermon in one of my Easter sermons. I gave Warren the credit for the three points, used them, and then wrote my own sermon. The sermon was very well received.

Preaching is so contextual that I can’t imagine that preaching another person’s sermon would be effective. I preached over 600 sermons in my 16 years at Plainview (and have a copy of almost every one of them). When I found myself in a difficult time bind (which happened once or twice a year) I would get out an old sermon of mine to preach. But even if I had only a half hour to work on it, I would always change it. The changing context (even if the only difference was time) demanded it.

I can sympathize with any preacher who finds him or herself late in the week and with no sermon. I can understand if that happens once or twice a year. But I don’t have sympathy if that happens frequently.

As Long argued—striving to tell the truth is the best way to negotiate this increasingly complex issue. If we preachers can manage our time effectively we won’t find ourselves madly looking for sermons on the Internet early on a Sunday morning.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Jesus Way

Yesterday my friend and Chain of Lakes participant Gary Wassam took me on a tour of the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul.

Gary loves history and shared with me information about the Native Americans who lived in this part of St. Paul in the 18th century. As part of this tour we read some historical monuments and came upon the one in this picture.

I have no idea what motivation drove the person to write “Jesus Saves” on this historical monument. The person who did it could have been a youth on a joyride, or a drunken adult, or maybe it really was a Christian who thought that a permanent marker could be used as an evangelism tool.

I was asked recently about what has surprised me in the past five months in my work at Chain of Lakes. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but now I can respond by saying I’m surprised that Christians, the church, and organized religion have such a poor image with the unchurched.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that writing “Lord Jesus Saves” on a historical monument doesn’t help the image of Christians.

When the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes came up with our Purpose Statement we had serious and thoughtful conversation about using the word, “disciple.” Some folks legitimately thought that the word would turn people off—especially young people. Since we passed our Purpose Statement I’ve had some folks tell me that people won’t come to our church because they don’t want to be a disciple. This doesn’t bother me—I don’t want to be a disciple who defaces a historical monument with the words “Lord Jesus Saves” either.

I accept the reality that many unchurched folks don’t have a biblical understanding of the word, disciple. The question that I wrestle with is “Do we in the church give up on showing a “Jesus way” of being a disciple? The answer has all sorts of implications for main-line Christianity.

My answer to that question is “no.”

What would happen if the unchurched saw people in our congregation acting with astounding compassion, what would happen if they saw us doing acts of service that actually made a difference in people’s lives and ultimately transformed a community, what would happen if the people in our congregation modeled authenticity to the world; what would happen if people read the Bible to learn about how to live out God’s desires for their lives. I could list twenty more of these “what would happen questions.” But you get the point. What would happen if a disciple of Jesus became known by what Jesus modeled and taught about being a disciple instead of the ugly brand which some display.

I have no problem saying that the church and in particular the Presbyterian Church has done a lousy job of communicating a "Jesus way” of being a disciple. I find that we Presbyterians are more concerned about programs and polity than about communicating a “Jesus way” of being a disciple.

But I do believe that a “Jesus way” is possible. I believe the Holy Spirit desires this and it can happen in a Presbyterian church. And unless this “Jesus way” is discovered a lot more ugliness masqueraded as Christianity will happen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A tribute to David Droog

At yesterday’s Presbytery meeting we received word that David Droog passed away. I can’t helped but share a tribute to his gifts, skills, and faith.

He served as an Interim pastor for as long as I’ve known him. I probably don’t have a complete list of all the places he's served, but I know that he’s served Presbyterian Churches as an Interim in Rochester, Hudson, Kasson, Burnsville, and Peace UCC in Rochester. He also served the Presbyterian Churches in Claremont and Austin.

David had the rare combination of a tough skin and a soft heart. As an Interim I think he understood that people would be upset at some of the processes that he initiated during that time period. That never seemed to deter or bother him. But David was not at all a callous man. He was very compassionate with the people whom he served.

I remember talking to him once when he was serving as an Interim at Peace UCC. He had just completed some advanced course work in Christian Education. He shared with me that he did this because he recognized that the youth learned in a very different way, and he wanted to understand how he could effectively communicate to them. I was so impressed that a man at his age—I’m guessing at that time he was in his middle or late 50’s—would get more education in order to communicate more effectively. David did not coast in his later years.

David was one of the best Interims that I knew. I was secretly hoping that he would serve as the Interim at Community Presbyterian in Plainview. David knew the tasks of an Interim Pastor, and he stuck with them with admirable tenacity. I have some questions about the value of Interim ministry, but I never questioned that David would leave a church in a better place compared to when he started.

David was a trusted colleague. Once when I was experiencing a difficult relationship in my work I called David and asked him to go out for lunch. I was told that he could provide some insight into this relationship. Though he was very busy, he took the time to listen to my story. His counsel was spot-on. He understood what was happening and helped give me clarity to the situation.

I was so impressed by one of the final letters David sent announcing the because of his health he had to leave First Presbyterian in Rochester. He asked that all of us pray that he could give thanks in all circumstances. For the past week I’ve offered this petition in my prayer life. I was touched that David could face the end of his life knowing that while he didn’t want to be in that place he was still willing to give thanks. That is the sign of a mature faith.

We’ll miss you David. We’ll miss your honesty, your laugh, your wisdom, your willingness to be with congregations during an important transition, and your faith. The world is a poorer place today compared to yesterday.

Praise God for the life of David Droog!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caring, Calvin, and Michael Jackson

Last Wednesday (the day after Michael Jackson’s service) I wrote a blog about watching Thriller with my daughter, Hannah. I put the word Michael Jackson’s name in the title. Immediately after I posted, people started reading the blog. Not many people read this blog, but on that day thirty-four people did—the highest number since I started blogging. Yesterday I wrote about John Calvin’s 500th birthday and put John Calvin’s name in the title. Immediately after I posted, nobody started reading the blog. Five people eventually came over.

I guess if we want people to come to worship we should put Michael Jackson and not John Calvin in our sermon titles.

I took some time yesterday to listen to Bruce Reyes-Chow (our current moderator) and Carol Howard Merritt interview Dr. Stephen Ray about John Calvin. The link is here:

At the start of the show I remember hearing Reyes-Chow talk about a younger blogger (Presbyterian pastor) who wondered why we are spending so much time as a denomination acknowledging Calvin’s 500th birthday. Reyes-Chow quoted this blogger (and I couldn’t find the link to the blog) as saying, “I don’t care about Calvin.”

I was startled to hear these words, but as I thought about them I admired the man for sharing them. I believe that many of my colleagues share this view. I’m guessing that if many Presbyterian pastors were honest they would say that they don’t care about Calvin. They might find him interesting, but the demands of ministry in the 21st century are so high that communicating Calvin’s thoughts and ideas to this culture that has such a short attention span is not high on the list of priorities. People are more interested in Michael Jackson than John Calvin.

On the other hand I know of many Presbyterian pastors who would be aghast at giving up the theological underpinnings that John Calvin provides. I remember hearing stories that some of my colleagues shared about being quizzed by their Presbytery about Calvin’s thought during their ordination examination on the floor of Presbytery.

Tonight my Presbytery is meeting. (I am confident no one will be quizzed about Calvin’s thought.) Though the turnout will probably be low because of the season, it would be interesting to do a survey of folks around the issue of passion about John Calvin. Do we care about John Calvin? Is it important to communicate his life story and theological beliefs? Is the celebration of his 500th birthday going to make a difference in the life and ministry of our local congregations? Is recognizing his birthday just an academic exercise that we know we should do and when it is over we’ll spend our time elsewhere?

As a point of personal disclosure I do care about John Calvin. I wouldn’t be reading the Institutes after I stopped reading them (read yesterday’s post) if I didn’t care.

I don’t think the world is that interested in John Calvin’s 500th birthday. And I think the varying views about Calvin among our clergy is an illustration of the deep chasms within the PC(USA).

Monday, July 13, 2009

John Calvin's 500th Birthday

Last Friday was the 500th birthday of John Calvin. Some folks might understandably say, “who?” For better or worse John Calvin is the a primary founder of what we would call Presbyterianism. Just as Lutherans look back to Luther; Methodists look back to Wesley; we Presbyterians look back to Calvin.

Put generally I believe that most Presbyterians view their relationship with Calvin as uneasy at best. So many stereotypes of the man exist—ones from which most Presbyterians want to flee. Stereotypes about predestination, free will, total depravity, and just general dourness.

I have been studying Calvin off-and-on for almost 20 years. During my times of study I have found myself profoundly moved by his writings and his personal story; at other times I have found myself disagreeing completely with his arguments.

I first read the Institutes at an upper level theology class during my last year at Union Seminary in New York. We read the Institutes in ten weeks. Dr. Christopher Morse was the Professor. Each week I wrote a two page reflection paper on the hundreds of pages I had read during the week. To be engaged in the thinking of Calvin—such a brilliant mind—was invigorating.

In my preaching at Plainview I occasionally lifted up pieces of Calvin’s thought. One summer Sunday I devoted an entire sermon to Calvin’s personal story—which is fascinating. Through the use of Power Point I was able to share the important chapters of his life with that congregation.

In recognition of his 500th birthday, Princeton Seminary is encouraging people to read through the Institutes in 2009. They created a web site with a daily reading schedule, weekly commentaries, and a message board.

This is an excellent idea and I decided in January to follow along on the reading schedule.

This time reading through the Institutes has been a chore.

I started off by reading the Institutes during my own personal devotion time. I had planned to read through the New Testament in 2009, but initially decided to substitute the Institutes. I started off fine, but by mid-April realized that reading Calvin and reading the New Testament are far different. I discovered I was hungry spiritually. I stopped reading the Institutes and started reading the New Testament during my devotions. That was a good choice.

I didn’t give up on Calvin, though. I would find time during the day to keep on the reading schedule. But when my family moved out of our house in Rochester, my Calvin reading was cast aside. I found myself behind on the readings. Eventually I decided to give up on reading the Institutes for the year.

However during my prayer time this morning, I felt a gentle nudge to come back and read the Institutes again. When I felt this nudge I asked God, “How am I going to catch up?” I felt a response to read for 15 minutes during the day at the office; start out with the current day’s reading, and then find a way to read what I’ve missed.

Okay—that is the plan for me. I’ll keep you posted on how it is going.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Letter writing

Allow me to share a secret about myself which might lead some to think that I qualify to be a nerdy, old geezer.

I’ve started writing letters again.

You know—a letter is delivered by the postal service—they are the ones who run billions in operating debt during a year partly because no one writes letters.

You know—a letter.

No, a letter is not a Tweet answering the question, “What are you doing?” It’s not a query on Facebook sharing with the world what’s on our mind. It’s not an Instant Message that fits into the screen of a cell phone. It's not even an E-mail—let’s face it E-mail is sooooooo old fashioned, though sooooooo productive.

You know—a letter.

For those of you who have forgotten, let me share a primer on letter-writing. Start out by putting the date on the top of a piece of paper; write a salutation (that’s Dear ____); write (or in my case type) words to a person--just write what you've been doing or what's been on your mind; then put a closing (like sincerely or love); and sign your name—probably best to actually sign your name and not type it.

Then here is the really old-fashioned part—put a letter in an envelope. You know, an envelope is a flat, usually white, (for letters) paper container into which a letter goes. The envelopes most of us use are are pre-printed--meant for bills. (I guess companies don't trust that consumers have blank envelopes lying around and don't trust our intelligence to put a bill and a check into a blank envelope, so we receive pre-printed envelopes. They don't take chances in receiving their money!) Put a stamp on the envelope—it goes on the upper right hand corner—I know it’s painful to part with 44 cents. Then (and this is the nerdy part) hand-write your address on the upper left hand corner of the envelope (if you don’t want to be that nerdy just put a pre-published label that non-profits send to make us feel guilty when we don’t send them money.) Put the address of the person to whom you are sending the letter—remember an address has no symbols like @, just numbers and letters. Then walk the letter to your mail box and put the letter inside the mail box--and don't forget to put up the red flag.

When I moved from Rochester to Blaine I had to go through practically everything I owned. For a long time I saved every letter I received—this is before E-mail. To take a break from the drudgery of packing I would sneak a read of some of these letters. The letters brought back memories locked away in my brain that perhaps only a letter could unlock.

Recently I proposed to my Dad that the two of us write a letter to each other once a month. So we have. He’s only written one, and I’ve only written one. It’s a start. I’m thinking about starting that with other family members too.

Yesterday I met with a friend and somehow the topic of letter-writing came up. We both agreed that letter-writing seems to have all but vanished and that letter-writing is valuable and useful. I challenged him to write a letter once a month. I told him that I’m going to write two people a different letter once a month. I suggested that the two of us encourage each other in our letter writing.

When I started receiving E-mail in the late 90’s I printed out my E-mails and saved them. I know—very nerdy. When I finally discovered the difference between E-mail and letters I stopped. Some E-mails are longer than letters—but how many of us print E-mails and save them? Letters on the other hand. . .

Maybe we could all have a national letter-writing day. I would guess the Post office would be pleased. And we would create keys for present events that can get locked away from our future.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Memories and Michael Jackson

With all the media coverage surrounding Michael Jackson over the past ten days my daughter, Hannah, and I have had many conversations about the pop superstar. Yesterday at lunch she asked me if I would watch “Thriller” with her. So last night she pulled up the video on You Tube and we watched it together.

I guess this is father/daughter bonding in 2009. An eight-year old pulls up a You Tube video on the Internet and she watches it with her dad. I wonder what Ozzie and Harriet would think.

I was surprised at how long the video went—about 14 minutes. As I was watching and silently critiquing it, I thought that the video (really it was a short-film) was a reflection of its time. We don’t have the attention span today that I guess we had in the early 1980’s. No video would last 14 minutes today.

For me the best part of the video was the dancing. As I wrote last week I hadn’t seen Thriller for years. I remembered all the zombies dancing with Michael Jackson at the end. When Hannah got a bit bored I implored her to wait for the dancing, wait for the dancing.

I prefer my memory to Thriller compared to what I saw yesterday. Tastes change, times change, cultures change. Sometimes memories are better than reality.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Presbyterians and the generation gap

Last week the Pew Research Center released a significant study about aging in America. The media reports about the study caught my interest because of the blaring headlines about a widening generation gap.

Any Presbyterian should be interested in understanding the generation gap. Put generally we are an older, wealthy denomination that hasn’t been successful in bringing younger generations into our congregations. We have a widening generation gap. When I go to Presbyterian churches I often find older people who care deeply about their congregation, people who want to attract younger folks, but people who don’t know how to do it and aren’t willing to do the hard work to understand how to attract young people.

The results of the study would make for interesting reading for leaders interested in the future of the church and in particular the future of the PC(USA). The complete study can be found here:

Let me offer this snippet from the study as an enticement to reflect deeply on the generation gap:

“The main generational differences, according to respondents to this latest survey, have to do with values and morality. When asked in an open-ended, follow-up question how younger people and older people differ most, nearly half of the respondents (47%) point to something having to do with values. Political views are cited much less frequently.

Within the broad category of values, the top volunteered responses are morality, ethics and beliefs (12%) and a sense of entitlement (12%).”

Hmm—sounds like the faith community has some work to do.

What I have found in my work is our older generations (let’s say 70’s through 90’s) have a difficult time understanding the world of the younger generations (16-35).

What disappoints me is our older generations haven't done more to understand the world of the younger generations. They don’t go out of their way to understand the admittedly dizzying world of Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, texting, living together before marriage, blended families, kids living in different households, credit card debt. That list could go on and on.

Understanding and accepting are far different qualities. Allow me to get on my soap box and issue a challenge to older generations—especially older Presbyterians. Work harder on understanding! You don’t have to accept the odd behaviors of the young, but unless you take the time to understand this group, our Presbyterian congregations will continue to look greyer every year.

Grey is not an attractive color.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Garrison Keillor in Avon

This past Saturday my wife, Amy, our daughter Hannah, and I got in the car to attend the 35th anniversary of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion show held in Avon, Minnesota. Amy & I decided to go somewhat at the last minute. When we didn’t have anything going on and realized that Avon was an easy drive from our new house, it seemed almost patriotic to drive to Avon to celebrate July 4th and listen to Garrison Keillor.

The show was only announced less than a month ago, but that didn’t stop one estimate of 10,000 people from cramming into a park right on the Lake Wobegon bike trail. I don’t believe in perfection, but the weather was practically perfect—high 70’s, gentle breeze, and a very bright sun.

Before the radio show started Keillor said to the crowd that there are certain names, events, and words that can unify a region. Garrison Keillor is one such name. I would guess that almost everyone in Minnesota has an opinion about him.

Most of us Minnesotans can probably mark our past by the Garrison Keillor shows we’ve attended. I’ve now attended five. In college I went to a show with my parents, in 2000 Amy & I introduced our parents to each other before we all attended a show, Amy & I went to a show in 2006 on a bitterly cold, Friday night, then we went to one of his recent shows in Rochester. Every show brings back memories—they are like markers on my journey.

The show this past Saturday was classic Keillor—plenty of music, some interviews with people from the area, a few skits, more music, and a Keillor monologue. Right before the show went on the air we all stood and sang “God Bless America.”

Amy, Hannah & I first found some seats about a hundred yards from the stage, but then found a shaded place to sit behind the stage. We enjoyed watching different folks walking from the back of the stage and then performing for the crowd. The St. John’s Boy Choir got ready for their performance right in front of us. I was blown away by how these normal-looking, early, middle-school boys could get in front of such a large crowd and sing so beautifully. For a moment I felt like the angels were singing in heaven.

Towards the end of the show Senator Amy Kloubachar came off the stage. She is one of Amy’s favorites, so we got some pictures. Kloubachar sat down to listen to the rest of the show and then Hannah sat right next to her. They weren’t too distracted by a woman who had a squawking parrot on her shoulder.

For one moment we were all normal people enjoying the beauty of the day—partly listening to the show and partly savoring the moment. Today I’m guessing that Amy Kloubachar is back in Washington D.C. intensely working on the great issues of the day; today my daughter is leisurely spending the day with her mom at our new house in Blaine. For one moment on the 4th of July the two of them were connected by sitting next to each other and listening to a Minnesota icon.