Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Hannah Louise Moore!

Thirteen years ago today at 10:38 a.m. a very special girl came into the world.  She arrived nine days later than the due date the doctors set, so a part of me wondered if she would ever come.  But during one of the coldest days of the coldest Decembers of this century, Hannah Louise Moore arrived.
She walked out of her room this morning with a big smile on her face.  “I’m a teenager,” she said proudly.   I’m not sure if I should yell “Yay, God” or scream in terror.  But in reality it doesn’t really matter.  Time marches on; Hannah is a teenager; today is her birthday; Happy Birthday, Hannah!
Whether we want it to or not, time does march on.  It does seem like just yesterday that I was holding this young baby in my arms at Rochester Methodist Hospital.  The task now is not to look backwards with sentimentality, but to continue to help her become the young woman that God desires for her to be.  Unfortunately my sage wisdom is not appreciated as much as in the past.  But as a good friend wrote on my Facebook page this morning, it does take a village to raise a child.  And I’m counting on that village to come through in these teenage years!
Happy Birthday, Hannah.  It’s a privilege to be your father.  Your mom and I love you more each year—all the way to Pluto and back.  I’m ready for the teenage ride!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela

The legacy of Nelson Mandela far transcends what will be written in the following weeks as the world prepares to celebrate his passing.  His identity depends on what each of us saw in him.  Was he a political revolutionary who led the A.N.C to take over South Africa?  Was he a skillful politician who was able to avoid a civil war that seemed inevitable in South Africa until he sought a multi-racial society based on democracy, human rights and tolerance?  Was he a profoundly moral man who was able to forgive his jailers and the whites who jailed him?  Or was he a disappointment who couldn’t deliver enough to the blacks in South Africa?  These are just four narratives that will capture our attention in the following months—and there are probably more.   
Last week I wrote on my Facebook page that he was one of the most inspiring leaders of my lifetime.  He captured my attention when I watched the television coverage of his release from prison on a Sunday morning in February, 1990.  I was living in Los Angeles and working for the farm workers.  Mandela was a political kinsman as the struggles of blacks in South Africa were somewhat similar to the struggles of farm workers in California.
The picture I had of Mandela at that moment was a political revolutionary.  I remember the anti-Apartheid and divestment protests on campuses in the late 1980’s.  My own college, Carleton college, had many of these protests. 
But my view of him changed on that Sunday morning in February, 1990.  From half a world away and watching through a small television I could see that Mandela was more than a political revolutionary.  He was obviously free from jail, but his spirit was free too.  It became apparent over time that he didn’t carry bitterness or hatred towards his own oppressors.  How he could live with this freedom was remarkable—and certainly inspiring.  He wasn’t a follower of Jesus, but he was living like Jesus.  His own moral authority made him so great.
I had the opportunity to hear him speak in Los Angeles and later in New York City when I attended seminary.  I wasn’t compelled by his speeches—it was his spirit that captured me.
At the end of the sermon I gave at Chain of Lakes yesterday I said that Mandela blessed the world in an extraordinary way.  His dream for a world where people came together free from hatred or bitterness is a dream that should unite all people of faith.  It’s a simple message and one that should inspire us to work even smarter and harder.  I hope this legacy of Nelson Mandela will endure.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Carleton Knights

This past Saturday, Amy, Hannah and I drove to Northfield to watch Carleton play their last football game of the year.  The opponent was Augsburg. 
This was the second game the three of us have seen the Knights play this season.  We drove to St. Paul to see the Carleton open their MIAC season against Hamline.  The Knights pulled that one out in overtime.  I wasn't present to see that as the red heads had convinced me to leave when Carleton was behind in the 4th quarter.  As a Knight junky I listened to the game at home while Hannah rolled her eyes in disbelief. 
I had thought the season would be a success if we could win our non-conference games plus beat a conference rival in addition to Hamline.  That mission was accomplished before Saturday’s game.  The Knights defeated Grinnell, Macalester, and won the Goat Trophy back against St. Olaf, who is having a down season.  We had also given a scare to St. Johns and Concordia at home.  This was progress—incremental, but still progress.
Coming into the game Augsburg was only one game better than Carleton; however they had played a close game against Bethel and St. Thomas, the best teams in the conference.  I wasn't optimistic.
It rained during the drive and was still drizzling when we pulled up to Laird Stadium.  Amy and Hannah didn’t want to get out of the car, so I walked by myself under an umbrella to join a few hundred folks who appreciate Division III football.
Augsburg took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter behind the outstanding play of their quarterback, Ayrton Scott.  Even when the Knights scored a touchdown, Augsburg ran back the kickoff for a touchdown.  In fact I was texting a friend that Carleton had scored and by the time I had finished the text Augsburg had scored on the kickoff. 
In the second quarter I ran into an old teammate, Troy Ethan.  He was two years behind me and was inducted last summer into the Carleton Athletic Hall of Fame.  We stood under our umbrellas and screamed our lungs out for most of the game.  We even did some recruiting for Carleton at halftime.
For most of the game it appeared that our screaming would not help the Knights.  We stayed in the game, but barely.  Carleton was behind by two touchdowns at halftime and seventeen points entering the fourth quarter. 
Carleton scored at the start of the fourth quarter to make the score 38-28 in favor of Augsburg.  After that touchdown I told Troy that I could see Carleton winning, 42-41.  I had hardly finished my sentence when Augsburg again ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. 
Carleton scored another touchdown and was fortunate when the ensuing kickoff rolled to a stop at the one yard line.  Augsburg had to start their drive at the three.  The Knights held and got the ball back with a little over four minutes.  In a little over a minute Carleton scored and got a two-point conversion.  45-42 Augsburg.  Could some Knight magic be in store?
Augsburg went conservative and Carleton forced a punt.  With a long runback the Knights were suddenly in business at the Augsburg 37 with a little under three minutes to play.  How had this happened so fast?  Soon after Carleton faced a fourth and six.  This was the play of the game.  Conor Lynch threw a pass to Anthony Kemper who was wide open over the middle.  Kemper ran down the middle of the field for a T-O-U-C-H-D-O-W-N.  Somehow Carleton had scored four touchdowns in less than ten minutes.
By this time it was pouring rain and the sky had gotten very dark.  The atmosphere was more conducive to building an ark than watching a football game.    
Troy and I are experienced Carleton football fans meaning we’ve had our hearts broken many times before.  It didn’t look good as Ayrton Scott quickly drove Augsburg down the field in the pouring rain.  An inexplicable unsportsmanlike conduct (which almost caused me to lose my voice as I yelled at the official—nothing profane, of course) and a completed pass gave Augsburg the ball at the Knight 23.  Scott dropped back to pass and dropped the ball, which had to be slippery.  F-U-M-B-L-E!  Knights R-E-C-O-V-E-R!  Knights W-I-N!!
I slapped Troy’s hand in jubilation with the passion of a linebacker blitzing the quarterback. 
Most of the time I walk away from Laird Stadium in a sour mood wondering why I attend the game.  But this long-suffering player and fan was jubilant on Saturday.  I did a dance in front of our car—where Amy & Hannah had camped out for most of the second half—and drove home with a huge smile on my face.
I’m still not sure why I get so worked up about a Division III football game in late November, but it sure was a terrific way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Friday, November 15, 2013

November Presbytery meeting

On Tuesday I drove over to the Korean Church of Minnesota to participate in the November Presbytery meeting.  I went to the meeting early so that I could participate in a training that Newell Krogmann shared on MissionInsite.  MissionInsite is an outstanding demographic program that the Presbytery has purchased—every church in our Presbytery can use it for FREE.  At Chain of Lakes we are training ourselves to understand even more clearly the person who lives in our target area.  MissionInsite is an invaluable help.
After the training I shared information about Chain of Lakes at a table that I always staff.  I particularly enjoyed talking to Ray Larson who is the Interim Head of Staff at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest.  He shared that they have a plan in place to hire a new Executive Director and are making plans for summer camp.
The Disability Task Force led worship.  I enjoyed hearing Lisa Larges talk about how Jesus was an expert participant (I don’t have the words exact) at awkward dinner parties.  I particularly enjoyed hearing Alek Smith read Scripture.  He is the son of Cathy Smith, who is an Intern at Chain of Lakes.
During dinner we were treated by an exquisite Korean meal that was shared by our hosts.  Wow!  I’d like to have Presbytery at that church every time!  During the dinner conversation I discovered that Walter Chuquimia will soon be leaving for a new call in Florida.  I knew that Walter was moving, but didn’t realize that this was the final meeting he would attend at Presbytery.  During the speak-out period I encouraged everyone to bless him on his departure.   Walter has been a good friend of mine ever since he came to the Presbytery.  Blessings to you, Walter!
After dinner reports were shared about the financial situation of the Presbytery and the proposal to change the Communications position in the office of the Presbytery.  The people involved in these reports had obviously done a lot of work in preparing these reports.
Before a conversation about changes in the Presbytery staff were made, Presbytery staff left the sanctuary.  I am technically a staff person for the Presbytery; however I don’t really think of myself as a staff person for the Presbytery.  I don’t attend staff meetings in the Presbytery office, my name is not on the staff web page of the Presbytery, my own business cards make no mention of being a staff person for the Presbytery.  I identify myself as the Organizing Pastor of Chain of Lakes. 
Leaving the meeting didn’t sit well with me.  I had received a phone call the night before sharing that the Presbytery staff had volunteered to leave the meeting at that point.  I shared on the phone call that I was uncomfortable with this proposal and thought it was unhealthy.  I said I wasn’t sure if I would say anything at this point of the meeting, but I reserved that possibility. 
I did get up to speak.  What prompted me to speak at the meeting was the statement that the staff had voluntarily agreed to leave.  This was not true for me.  I rose and made a motion that the Presbytery vote on whether the staff leave the meeting.  I know I surprised Moderator David Colby with the motion.  In retrospect I wish I had consulted with him earlier in the day, but in all honestly I decided at that moment to make this motion.  David consulted with Jay Wilkenson, the acting Stated Clerk, who ruled that my motion was out of order.
I then left the meeting.  I was upset.  As I was walking out of the sanctuary I decided to leave the building.  At that moment watching my daughter, Hannah, practice basketball was more appealing than waiting to come back to a meeting in which I was asked to leave.
Before I left the parking lot I made a comment on Facebook about what happened.  The comment came from frustration.        
The next day David Colby and I talked.  He had reached out to me via a Facebook message the night before.  I’ve known him ever since he came to the Presbytery and have great respect for the work he has done at Central Presbyterian in St. Paul.  He and Bill Davnie, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery, did extensive research about how to handle the process of that part of the meeting.  In their research they were told that a governing body or council cannot vote to exclude members from a meeting.  That is why the motion I made was ruled out of order. 
This issue about the Presbytery staff voluntarily leaving the meeting is still perplexing to me, but in all honesty I am letting it go.  Many people asked me about my Facebook post, so I decided to write this blog to try to explain what happened.  The Presbytery has many more important issues than the Presbytery staff voluntarily leaving a meeting or a motion I made at a meeting being ruled out of order. 
The Presbytery made very difficult decisions this past Tuesday night.  Dennis Sanders will no longer be working for the Presbytery staff.  This will be a loss.  The Presbytery had to tighten its budget in a dramatic way.  These are the important issues to focus on as we move ahead.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blessings, Gary Elg!

This week I had the privilege of talking to Gary Elg on the phone.  Gary has just started as the pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Illinois.  I am very excited for him and want to wish him a public blessing as he starts his ministry there.  His new church is very fortunate to have Gary as their pastor.
I’ve known Gary ever since I came into Twin Cities Area Presbytery in 1993.  He served in Red Wing; I served in Plainview.  We also served together on the Church Development Team.  We would hang out at Presbytery meetings and trade stories.  He was a friend and wonderful colleague.
Gary’s life came crashing down a year ago August.  He did something that he will regret for the rest of his life.  When I got the news I was in Florida at a New Church Development Conference.  I sobbed like a baby.  I called him immediately and told him I wanted to get together when I came back from Florida.  We can’t abandon people because of their worst moments.
For the past fifteen months we’ve gotten together once or twice a month at a local coffee shop.  I watched and listened as Gary turned his life around.  He experienced a lot of loss—his marriage, his church in Red Wing that he faithfully and successfully served for over 20 years, and his status as an ordained pastor.  It was painful.
But he did turn around his life.  He accepted the consequences of his choices.  He openly went through a restoration process that the Presbyterian church has.  He was candid and authentic.   And it was a lot of work. 
He could have easily thrown in the towel and chose another profession.  But he didn’t because he has a call.  Gary believes that he has gifts he can use to serve God through the church.  And he is right.  Gary came out on the other side of the process much healthier and whole.  He is ready to serve as a faithful and successful pastor again.
Before he went to his new church I shared with Gary that he was like the prodigal son.  He came to himself and through the grace of God has received another chance.  He also did the hard work so he could be restored.  Through the process he has a new understanding of people who have suffered.
A couple Fridays ago Gary and I met at the coffee shop for the last time.  I asked him if I could share his story on this blog.  My motivation is that people will know that Gary is doing well and that he deserves a lot of praise for the work of his restoration.  He reluctantly agreed as Gary has never really wanted to receive a lot of attention. 
When he left I gave him a huge bear hug.  I’m going to miss those Friday morning coffees.  But I have renewed faith in a God who never lets us go! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Welcome, Jason Blair

A few weeks ago Chain of Lakes commissioned Jason Blair in worship as a Discipleship Intern.  We are very excited that Jason and his family have decided to share their gifts with our new congregation and the wider community.
I first got to know Jason when he shared his gifts as a guitar player in worship at Chain of Lakes.  Kristel Peters, the music director of our new church, knew Jason and encouraged him to play.  In talking to Jason I learned that he had received a MDIV from Bethel and was interested in new church development.  We had to talk—I invited him out to lunch.
I soon discovered that he and I look at the world in a very similar way.  Both of us are interested in making and developing disciples who combine the best of our conservative and liberal traditions.  Jason went on to say that he has an interest in starting a new church at some point in his life.  When he said that I couldn’t help but say, “you have to come to Chain of Lakes Church!”
We started talking about what he could do in our new congregation.  We have no money to pay him, but he was willing to come on as an intern.  We put together a position description that our Steering Committee approved.  His task is to help our new congregation foster intentional discipleship and missional community.  What does that mean?  We’re still figuring it out.
Eventually we hope that he could develop and implement a plan for discipleship at Chain of Lakes, and we hope that he could research and gather best practices regarding discipleship which he would relate to our demographic.  I could see him taking a significant leadership role in developing small groups at Chain of Lakes.
Right now we are enjoying his presence, the presence of his wife, Paula, and the presence of their two beautiful children, Breonna and Jordan.
In his bio. Jason wrote that “as a disciple, life is primarily about striving to follow Jesus and help[ing] others to do the same.  … “As a geek [he] makes his living supporting a computer network and those who use it.  As a musician [he] expresses the creative side of his spirit and shares it with others.  As a martial artist [he] trains to find the inner discipline to live out everything out.” 
Jason comes from a diverse theological background.  He wrote that “I was born, baptized, confirmed and raised in the Methodist tradition.  After discovering and embracing my faith in college, I found my way into the Evangelical Free Church … But in that tradition, I have been influenced by Baptists, Anglicans, Orthodox, Catholics, and many others to a lesser degree.  For that reason, Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 lurks behind all that I do.”
In coming to Chain of Lakes Jason, Paula and their children left Grace Evangelical Free Church in Fridley.  This was significant to them as they had many close friends and colleagues at that place.  Coming to Chain of Lakes did not take place for the Blair family without grief. 
I have no idea what will result in Jason and his family’s participation at Chain of Lakes, but I do know that it is going to be a lot of fun to see how the Spirit works!! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Remembering the Loma Prieta earthquake

Jocelyn Sherman, a long-time friend, reminded me yesterday that October 17 was the 24th anniversary of the earthquake in San Francisco called the “Loma Prieta” earthquake.  Like her I was in it—and it was unbelievable.
I was in San Francisco working for the United Farm Workers.  I had left seminary for a year and was working on a campaign against Safeway.  We had already organized many rallies and spent quite a lot of time outside their stores asking them not to sell grapes.  I was on the second floor of a building in the Tenderloin district making some copies at 5:04 p.m. 
All of a sudden I felt like I was surfing.  The floor was moving.  I looked up at the ceiling and saw that it was moving too.  Earthquake!!  I didn’t know what to do—I was from the Midwest—the earth didn’t move there.  My natural instinct was to get to the ground floor.  I got to the stairwell and ran down as fast as I could.  As I was running down the stairs the thought went through my mind that I could die.  I made it to the ground floor and ran out the door.  “Come back in,” a group of people yelled at me.  Being from the Midwest I didn’t realize that the safest place to be in an earthquake was under a door.  I ran back in—and the earthquake stopped.
Wow—I eventually learned that the earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale; 63 people were killed.
Making it through the earthquake depended on where a person was.  I was living at a Catholic priests’ residence near Lake Merritt in Oakland at the time.  I traveled on the 880 freeway and the Bay Bridge every morning.  If I had been in the wrong place I would have been added to the 63. 
When the earthquake was over we warily walked outside the building.  Chips of stone had fallen out of it.  Everything was chaotic.  No street lights worked; the homeless were directing traffic; we saw a huge fire that erupted hundreds of feet in the air in the Marina District; we got word that we couldn’t drive back to Oakland over the above-pictured Bay Bridge so started back over the Golden Gate Bridge.
As we walked to the car we experienced the first of many aftershocks.  The first one measured over 5 on the Richter scale.  I hated the aftershocks.  We never knew when they would hit, but we learned that they would come. 
After making it over the Golden Gate bridge we stopped to eat Chinese food.   The group I was with could hardly talk.  This was long before cell phones, so we had no way to reach others who were working with us.  I later found out that my friend, Irv Hershenbaum was in a building overlooking Lake Merritt.  He said that the building swayed back and forth.
After a very long drive we made it back to where I was staying.  We had no electricity.  I called my parents and shared stories with everyone else there.
I love an adventure, but I don’t need to ever experience an earthquake again.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prayer is personal but not private

Yesterday I finished a six week sermon series on prayer at Chain of Lakes by sharing a vision for prayer.  The vision I shared is our new church will be a community of prayer.  I shared three elements of this vision.  One is that prayer is personal and not private.  During the last six weeks I’ve been encouraging people to share their prayer lives with each other.  The local congregation should be a place where we can learn from each other about our prayer lives.  We should feel comfortable sharing what is happening in our prayer lives, the obstacles we’re encountering, the joys we’re experiencing.  Through our sharing we learn from each other.
Many people at Chain of Lakes have shared with me that they have never (yes, never!!!!) been encouraged to talk about their own prayer lives with another person.  I am so glad that we are creating the type of community where we can be authentic about our own prayer lives. 
If you would like to watch the entire sermon go to:
I feel so strongly about this point that prayer is personal and not private that I decided to share this section of the sermon in my blog.  Please share your comments.  This is a very important issue!
The first element of this vision is prayer is personal but not private.  Prayer is personal because we share our most intimate thoughts with God.  When we’re honest with God through prayer we have to confront ourselves—our limitations and our strengths.  When we pray we can be naked—we’re laid bare before God. 
But prayer is not private.  The value of a community is we can help each other.  An image I’ve been working with this week is a workout center.  In a way a local congregation is like a workout center.  We’re all working out or praying and we’re sharing with each other how it’s going.  If I was at a workout center and I was training for a race I’d ask people how is it going, what’s happening, what’s working.  In the church the same thing should happen with prayer.  We should be asking each other, how’s your prayer life going, what’s working, what obstacles are you facing.  When we ask these questions we don’t ask them out of judgment..  Our motivation is not to point our finger and say, “did you pray this week?”  That’s the furthest thing from our mind. 
We want to be a community where we help each other in our prayer lives.  When we share we learn from each other.
This past Thursday night at our Steering Committee we talked about our prayer lives.  It was a wonderful conversation.  We authentically shared what was going well in our prayer lives and our struggles.  We all know that we can do better.  We also know that God accepts us where we are in our prayer life.  One of the Core Values of Chain of Lakes is acceptance.   We understand this to mean that “We accept people without judgment, regardless of what has happened in their lives or where they are on their faith journeys.”
Think about how this Core Value relates to prayer.
We can learn so much about prayer when we share our prayer lives with each other. 
One challenge I have is I’m going to challenge each of our teams to open up our meetings with a conversation about our prayer life.  Let’s get in the habit of sharing what is going well, what obstacles we are facing.  If we aren’t praying, we’re not embarrassed to say that.  If something is going well, we’ll share that too.    
Prayer is personal, but not private.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrating 150 years at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview, Minnesota

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege in participating in the 150th anniversary celebration of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview.  Over a year ago John Curtiss, the pastor of the church, had asked me to save the date and invited me to come.  It was terrific that my wife, Amy, and daughter, Hannah could join me in the celebration.
The celebration started before worship as the church dedicated its new bell structure.  The bell hadn’t been sounded before worship in at least 15 years when it fell off its moorings in the bell tower.  I still remember that day well.  Bob Bosma, a senior high youth at the time, was doing his duty of ringing the bell before worship.  When he pulled the rope all of us heard a very large “thump.”  We later realized that we were fortunate that the bell hadn’t fallen all the way to the basement of the church and caused significant injury and damage.  The bell ended up on a large piece of wood that cracked but stayed in place. 
This past year the people of the church raised money for a beautiful bell stand.  Wally Richardson, one of the oldest people in the church—rang the bell before worship for the first time since that fateful day when the bell fell.  The sound was deep, rich and rang through the community.  The sound of the bell was a reflection of the Scripture inscribed on the bell, "Let him that heareth say come," Revelation 22:7.
Yesterday the focus of worship was on the past.  This coming Sunday the congregation will look into the future.  Yesterday we sang old hymns and remembered many of the saints who came before us. 
It was humbling for me to reflect on the many people who have worked together to form this strong faith community called, “Community Presbyterian Church.  I served there as the pastor for 16 years—and that is only one-tenth of the church’s existence.  The church is never about one person or group of people—and this fact was never more apparent than at this celebration.
I shared during my short talk that yesterday we were re-naming the Presbytery, the Presbytery of Plainview Area.  For the intersection of 5th and Broadway was the place to be.  People jammed into the sanctuary to remember the past.  In his sermon John Curtiss looked at the question, “what is faith?” the question that the disciples had asked Jesus.  He replied that faith does not have to be a complicated endeavor.  Jesus answered the question himself when he said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
I  especially enjoyed the power point presentation that Diana Pries shared.  She shared many pictures of past pastors and many pictures of the ministry that had taken place there.
After a congregational pot-luck the church sponsored a program where seven significant people from the church’s past suddenly showed up to share their stories.  We heard a story from a charter member of the church—whose story came from the 1860’s.  We also heard how Don Harrington (who was played by his son, Kent) was taken up by faith.  Faith for him eventually was more than a church organization; it was the amazing grace that God shares with us.
The community of Plainview has been blessed over the past 150 years by the ministry of Community Presbyterian Church.  Yay, God for the faithful dedication of these saints over the past century-and-a-half!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A review of Eleanor and Park

Last week I discovered that the book “Eleanor & Park” was causing a controversy in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.  The book was part of the district’s summer reading program.  A group in the school district objected to the book because it has “220 profanities.”  Because of their pressure an appearance by the author, Rainbow Rowell, was cancelled.
I never make comments on a book unless I read it.  So last Friday I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase a copy.  I finished it last night.
Set in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska the book explores a relationship between Park—a half-Korean kid—and Eleanor—a poor girl with red hair who doesn’t fit in to the culture of the school.  Eleanor is constantly bullied by people on her bus and by girls in her school.  Her physical safety is threatened by her violent, alcoholic, step-father.
But something clicks between Park and Eleanor.  It’s fascinating to read about the slow development of their relationship.  Their own anxieties and self-doubt reveal the life of a teenager.  Every parent of teenagers would benefit from reading the book because it would give them a deeper understanding of their own kids.
The book uses language that I don’t use.  If I heard my twelve-year old daughter use that language I would immediately ground her.  But just because the book uses language that is profane doesn’t mean the school district or the leaders of the summer reading program support that use of language.   Those leaders support the book because the book reveals something about ourselves.  It can foster conversation about very important issues in our world. 
The book has given me a clearer understanding of domestic violence and the impact it has on families.  It pains me to think that many teenagers in the A-H school district live in the poverty that Eleanor experienced. 
The use of profane language in the book reveals a culture that already exists.  My daughter is not going to swear more because she read the “f” word in “Eleanor and Park.  Just like she isn’t going to engage in inappropriate sexual activity because Park took Eleanor’s bra off.  My daughter doesn’t live in a vacuum as the other students in the school district don’t.  As a parent my task is not to protect her from the world, but to equip her to live in this world.
What’s important to me about any book is the quality of the literature.  On this test the novel has done well.  It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a New York Times best seller.   The book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award.  Common Sense Media gave the book a terrific review and recommended it for youth age 14 and above.
I’m glad the librarians of the A-H school district chose this book as part of a summer reading program.  I’m glad that the book is in the libraries of the schools.  I’m very disappointed that a visit by Rainbow Rowell was cancelled.  As a parent of a middle-school daughter who attends school in the A-H school district and as a pastor of a church in Blaine, I would be willing to work with anyone to help promote a visit by her.
We can’t hide from our world.  Rainbow Rowell did an outstanding job of portraying youth culture and evoking compassion for teenagers among her readers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Evangelism and Church Growth Conference

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Evangelism/Church Growth conference organized by the Evangelism/Church Growth team of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which was held at a hotel in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida.
It was wonderful attending the conference with five other people from our Presbytery.  I had the opportunity over five days last week to have extended conversation with Walter Chuquimia, Newell Krogmann, Rochelle Le Tourneau, Beverly Modlin, and Dan Vigilante.
The conference was organized into a traditional format of worship, large group presentation, seminars, and shorter workshops.
I particularly enjoyed the two large group presenters.  Deb Hirsch shared six important incarnational practices from the life of Jesus that we are called to share with people.  She labeled them as six “P’s.”  They are 1) presence; 2) proximity; 3) prevenient grace; 4) powerlessness; 5) passion—of Christ; 6) proclamation.  What was significant to me is proclamation was the last part of the process.
Many of us have been taught to encourage our congregation to invite their friends and family to worship.  We have even set up special, “Invite a friend” days where the church can shine.  The mistake in these is we proclaim first and build relationship second.  What would happen if we trained people in our congregation to bless folks through relationships outside of God and the church.  After building relationships, we can then invite the person.  This process will undoubtedly take longer, but will also seem less manufactured. 
The next day Doug Pagitt from Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis shared the characteristics of what he called the “Inventive Age.”  He’s written three books on the idea which I purchased.  I’ll be sharing more in the future.
My favorite seminar was led by Glenn Mc Donald called, “Disciple-Making in a Fresh Context.”   He talked about how churches can get caught up in the ABC’s—Attendance/Building/Cash.  We can do well in all three and not help people have significant conversation with God.  He shared the characteristics of a Disciple-Making church. 
It was ironic or perhaps the work of the Spirit that I attended this workshop as I just shared a sermon series with folks at Chain of Lakes about the priority of making disciples and growing in discipleship.  The sermon was based on Mc Donald’s book called, “The Disciple-Making Church.”  I had a brief opportunity to share with him how I just had preached on his book and now was attending his workshop.  Yay, God!
I particularly enjoyed attending a workshop by Camie Minter on helping the families of New Church Development pastors.  Camie and her husband, Caz, have started a new church in Austin, Texas.  I’ve gotten to know  Caz through past workshops, but this was the first time I’ve met her.  He talked about the importance of developing boundaries and developing a support network.
I regret that more opportunities weren’t shared to help connect Organizing Pastors at the conference.  These folks are a special breed and need to connect and support each other.  I hope that opportunities for connection and support can be shared in the future.
I especially loved experiencing the energy of the 1001 Worshiping Communities Initiative.  I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Vera White who explained this Initiative and how churches can get connected.  I hope that someday in the not-to-distant future Chain of Lakes will be sponsoring a new Worshiping Community.
I’ve always believe that conferences are successful if one idea is implemented in the following six months.  I’ll let you know by March 26 if this conference was successful for me, but I have every reason to believe it was!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Faith the size of a mustard seed--the Presbytery budget deficit

This past Monday night I received an E-mail detailing the Presbytery’s grave financial situation.  The E-mail shared that the projected deficit for the Presbytery budget in 2014 is $180,000.  I was shocked at the size of the number. 
Chain of Lakes Church is funded by the Presbytery.  Our ministry has never been in better shape than it is right now.  We are poised to grow in numbers; we have some pieces in place that we’ve never had before.  However the optimism that we feel at Chain of Lakes will go poof if we receive a large cut in our financial support.   Every group that receives funding undoubtedly feels the same way.  The stakes regarding this issue are very, very high. 
My motivation for writing is not to criticize or be pessimistic.  I’m writing in the spirit of humility and hope.
I would love to see a Presbytery-wide conversation take place in how to reduce this deficit.  This is an opportunity for people in the Presbytery to come together to develop solutions.  It’s imperative that we pull together. 
So in hopes of starting a wide-scale conversation, let me share these thoughts.  I also hope that everyone in our Presbytery who writes a blog will also share some ideas.
What would happen if every Presbyterian congregation spent five minutes praying about the deficit in every Sunday worship service in October?  What if we set up prayer groups within every part of the Presbytery?  What if we set up prayer chains among our Presbyterian churches?  Let’s submit ourselves to God and listen to God’s direction.
What would happen if we created a message board on the Presbytery web site and encouraged people to offer solutions?  What if we challenged people to come up with 100 ideas to solve the budget deficit? 
What would happen if we tried to raise the entire 180,000 through a special offering from the Presbyterian churches on some Sunday in 2014?  Some talented group could make a DVD and every church could receive a visit from a rep from the Presbytery sharing the importance of this offering.  We could develop energy and momentum towards this special offering.  I certainly would be willing to go to churches and speak about Chain of Lakes and share how grateful our new congregation is at receiving financial support.
What would happen if we approached the five churches who might be leaving the PC(USA) and ask them if they would give $10,000 a piece that is over and above the gift they are planning on giving to the Presbytery as they leave.
Or what would happen if we went to the 70 current churches—I think that is 70—and ask them to give $3,000 to a special 2014 budget request.  This $3,000 would be over and above their current giving.
Any pessimist could share why any of the above ideas won’t work.  However even if folks feel pessimistic we only need faith the size of a mustard seed—that tiny amount of faith that can move mountains.
I’m not wedded to any of the above ideas.  I’m most interested in seeing a large number of people engaged in solving this problem.  I do know that we have tremendously creative people in our Presbytery who are skilled at coming up with solutions to complex problems.  We might be foolish to try one of these or many other outside-the-box ideas.  However I am a fool for Christ.  And I believe that others fools in our Presbytery can solve this problem.