Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just a brief comment

Across the pond in Seattle, a little firestorm is brewing. It seems Richard McIver, a Seattle City Councilman, was fined $1,000 for an ethics violation, related to a time he used his position to award city contracts to friends of his. He paid the fine without much complaint. Only he used the city's own money to pay his fine. The taxpayer's money, that is. And he doesn't seem to see anything wrong in that.

"'It is regrettable that I am now caught in the middle of a disagreement over the interpretation of the law,' McIver said in [a] statement."

That's what all this comes down to: a little disagreement over legal interpretation.

And people wonder why we don't trust politicians. . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Like a kid in a candy store

I remember back in the day, back when I lived in Other Places, I'd walk into a grocery store and see these tiny little plastic containers with, say, 10 blackberries in them, for $3.99. I'd be tempted, because I love blackberries. But, that's not exactly true. I was never tempted, because it would be ludicrous to pay $3.99 for packaged blackberries.

These days, the path I walk to work and home again is a veritable smorgasbord of berries. The blue huckleberries are coming in, a few thimbleberries remain, but the blackberries. . .aah, the blackberries. Hanging in clumps for me to pick, like so many grapes hung over the emperor's cot by the court virgins. I pick one, I turn, there are twenty more! I bite into another, that delectable sweetness bursting forth between my teeth and rushing down my palette, surging a flood of delight and rapture as it flows down my throat. But another step and there are more, and more, and more! And I think, in my euphoria, of the coming days of blackberry jam, blackberry pancakes with blackberry syrup, blackberry cobbler and blackberry ice cream. And, best of all, the sun-warmed blackberry, freshly picked, staining my fingers, popping between my lips and onto my tongue. The kiss of summer.

Oh yes. These are the days I know I live in the most perfect place. The blackberries have spoken once again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If you're sick of CNN and Fox News

And would like a trustworthy insider's perspective to this year's political conventions, check out Dale Kuehne's Convention Blog.

Dale is a professor at St. Anselm College, where he teaches Political Science, among other things. I sat through a seminar he led at the Covenant Midwinter a couple years ago, and would put it in the top three seminars I've ever attended.

And perhaps the best thing going for him is that he pastors a Covenant Church. So he's good people.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

And then there are the times God does show up

I think I probably first noticed it during worship team rehearsal. Something was going on. I know it can be awfully intangible sometimes, but it was there. Maybe it was just because some people had shown up for rehearsal, and they were already worshiping, kneeling, praying. Whatever it was, God was moving.

Although I didn't really become aware of it until the second or third song of the morning celebration. That was when I noticed tears in the faces of some of our people. Not just one or two, but a number of them, across the sanctuary. And, I admit, the worship team seemed filled with a passion that isn't always there. But by the time we got into "What a Friend I've Found," it was obvious. The Spirit was doing something special.

And so we finished and moved into a moment of silence. Which we don't always do. And yet, nobody moved. Nobody broke the moment. Nobody sat down in a huff, wondering what the heck was going on. In some new way, God's Spirit fell on the people of Lakebay this morning, and they were ready to meet him. So we stood in silence, and then joined together softly singing the name of Jesus once again. And I saw smiles of joy; I saw tear of pain. I saw God's people meeting God in the House of the Lord.

All of which was a good sign, because today we hit the Mark 10 passage. The Divorce passage. Which is not an easy passage to preach - anytime, but especially in 21st Century America, where it's all about personal fulfillment and happiness, rather than obedience and discipleship.

And yet, even there God showed up. Nobody seemed to take offense, nobody stormed out in anger, even when I dared call sin "sin." And, afterward, we had more requests for copies of the sermon than we've ever had. A lot of people asking how to get to the sermon online, so they can pass it on to friends and neighbors in need. So God spoke to God's people.

Doug told me later we had some visitors in the service; one filed for divorce this last week, another living in a new marriage following a recent divorce. And our church is certainly full of people who have lived that pain, and who are there now. Yet we walked today that eternal tension of calling out sin for what it is, while offering grace and forgiveness to those so hurt by this calamity.

Since then, I've received a couple comments of appreciation and encouragement. Not that I take any glory in that; it just proves God broke through into people's hearts, and they heard the Lord in spite of my fear and trembling.

These are the days you stand in awe of what God has called you to do, the days you stand on holy ground and recognize this is about something much bigger (and better) than you.

God showed up this morning, and it was sweet. Tough, but sweet.

And for those of you still struggling, may the Lord give you courage and strength to obey, even when every fiber of your being wants to give up. And may his peace guard your soul, wherever you may find yourself tonight.

Peace.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

At the risk of offending everybody

Like most pastors in North America, I've been asked about Todd Bentley and the revival with which he was a part in Florida. And while I had some concerns, I didn't want to deny the possibility that God was truly up to something down there. Now that Todd has fallen, and fallen hard, people are trying to figure out what it all means.

1. Does this just prove it was false to begin with?
2. Does this just prove that Satan has attacked the Lord's anointed?
3. Does this just prove that everybody is fallible, even God's servant?
4. Does this just prove Todd was a sham and his work a put-on?
5. Is God still causing revival, even with Todd no longer a part?

I'll tell you a little of my starting position: historically, true revival has always been marked by repentance more than healing. Changed lives, more than fixed bodies. And, from the little I paid attention to this one, I can't say I saw much of a spirit of repentance. It seemed more about "getting the goods" (be it healing or "an anointing") and less about deep, Spirit-led repentance with a parallel commitment to mission and ministry. So I wasn't completely sold.

But tonight as I read a few of the news reports related to Todd's, ahem, indiscretion, as I sifted through some "comments" pages and some blogs related to the issue, it began to dawn on me that I'd been looking at it all wrong.

What we have here is the latest in a series of "revivals" - Toronto, Modesto, Brownsville, and more. All have drawn a lot of attention, all were marked by healings (or, at least, rumors of healings). And while most made extravagant claims to "commitments to Christ," the numbers never played out. For instance, in Modesto they proudly tell of the 70,000 people who accepted Jesus there. Unfortunately, church attendence in the area didn't grow by 70,000 people. It didn't even grow by 10,000 people. If I remember correctly, church attendence didn't grow AT ALL following the event. (Well, the church hosting it grew; most of the other churches in the area lost attendence; iow, it was simply church-hopping, not conversion growth).

Yet the hosts of these revivals proclaimed loudly that God was pouring out his blessings, and tens of thousands of people flew into town, or drove in in their motorhomes; the revivals saw packed-out buildings for weeks on end as Christians showed up to take part. I know of people here in Washington who flew all the way to Florida to take part in Bentley's "anointing."

But the sad truth is, there is no long-term appreciable difference in the Church today. Those who go to these revivals have a powerful experience, they meet God in new ways. Supposedly some are healed (although it would be nice to see some hard, fast evidence, like doctors going on Nightline saying "20 of my patients came back to see me, and I can say the blind can now see, the deaf can now hear, the lame can now walk."). But when all is said and done, the Church is no different.

So here's my question: Is this not the exact same thing as when Catholics claim a vision of the Virgin Mary, and suddenly tens of thousands of people descend on some poor town, hoping to see the Virgin themselves? They believe it passionately, they claim a deep spiritual experience, they dismiss any negative voice in their midst. And we laugh at them with their silly superstition. How crazy, that they would believe Mary is there and wants to show herself to them.

But yet isn't this talk of revivalism the same? It has more to do with the "faith" of the people than any tangeable evidence or report. Any Christian who questions the authenticity is accused of "quenching the Spirit" or denying the power of God. Even when things fall apart, when healing doesn't happen, when conversion growth doesn't appear, the emotion of the moment carries everything on of its own accord.

I'm not saying God can't work through Todd Bentley. I'm not saying God doesn't show up when people seek him. I am saying I'm concerned that often we mistake our emotions, and the emotions of those around us, for a movement of God. Most Protestants would scoff at the Catholic who runs to Omaha to see Mary (or Jesus) in a piece of toast. Should we not apply the same standard to Christians who need to run off to Florida to see Jesus in a questionable servant?

I'm just asking. Feel free to disagree.

Friday, August 22, 2008

One short Olympic Tidbit

American Brian Clay just won the gold medal in the decathlon, the first American to do so since 1996.

Brian Clay is an alumnus of Azusa Pacific University, my alma mater.

Nice to see a Coug represent.

What you doin' here?

Note to nerds - please skip the following introduction, as it will bore you. . .

I have google analytics installed on the Hole in the Wall. Which means I can track a lot of details regarding who visits this site. Not the individuals themselves; for instance, I don't know that YOU specifically are reading this right now. But it tells me how many visitors, how many are repeat and how many first-timers, whether they're using Explorer or Firefox or another, and how they got here. Say you found this blog by typing "Dan Whitmarsh the Most Intelligent Christian Commentator in the World" into your search engine; when the results came back this site was at the top, you clicked the link, and here you are. Now, say, 50 people all typed "Dan Whitmarsh the Most Intelligent Christian Commentator in the World" into their search engines, and they all followed the links here. . .then I would be told that 50 people came to this sight by searching for "Dan Whitmarsh. . ." (you get the picture). And once a week or so I check the google analytics, just to see who my visitors might be.

(Nerds - check back in here)

So, without further ado, here are the top-ten keywords for which people searched, that led them to Dan's Hole in the Wall:

1. waypoint church gig harbor
2. dan whitmarsh
3. bent meyer
4. "dan whitmarsh"
5. if I were a scientist
6. bent meyer mars hill
7. dan whitmarsh blog
8. dr goes pellucid marginal degeneration
9. independence day walls
10. more than they deserve

Okay, for a moment, let's combine #s 2,4, and 7. Obviously, people are looking for me. As to #1 - that's another church in the area. The pastor there is a friend of mine. Apparently, people are looking for his site. And ending up here instead. I hope they aren't too disappointed. #5 and #10 are both related to older posts I've made. #8, I'm not sure about the "dr. goes" part but PMD is what I'm dealing with in my left eye. #9 I have no idea.

But it's #3 and 6 that shout out at me. Because it's old news, the story of Mars Hill Church in Seattle firing Bent Meyer and another pastor under suspicious circumstances. And yet people are still searching for his story, and how it relates to that church.

Something's festering there, some people must still be unhappy with the way that all played out.

And, you may tell me, every church has its grumpy people, its detractors and naysayers, and Mars Hill has certainly attracted its critics.

Still, people seem to be looking for answers. And from what I understand, Mars Hill isn't much into "giving people answers" so much as they're into telling people what to believe. Which, in my experience, isn't a healthy way to lead a church.

Mission Story #8: What's that smell?

It was Monday afternoon. We'd been on the road since Friday morning. We'd already spent two nights in Antioch and one in San Francisco. We had 14 peoples' luggage, sleeping bags, and personal bags, we had instruments and games and footballs. We were trying to keep track of a lot of stuff. So nobody really noticed the two black bags on the van floor. They must belong to somebody, right? Or they must have important stuff in them, right?

So, back to Monday. We'd served lunch and organized the clothing shop at St. Anthony's. We'd finished the Meet-A-Need project (see yesterday). We were in the van, heading over to Naan-and-Curry for Indian food.

And everybody noticed that the van was starting to smell a little ripe.

I had noticed it earlier, but chalked it up to 8 people traveling 800 miles in an enclosed space. Add in the little pieces of trash that were collecting. And include the history of the van: it was old, it was regularly used to transport food for our church's homeless outreaches. I just figured we were smelling the remnants of all that.

But the kids in the back said it really stunk back there. And they started wondering about those black bags laying on the floor, the ones nobody had yet claimed. Those black. . .trash. . .bags. Which, upon further investigation, we discovered were full of. . .trash.

Backtrack the story.

It's Thursday night, the night before we leave, and people are dropping off their stuff to be loaded into the vehicles. Some of that stuff is packed nicely in duffel bags and suitcases; other stuff is shoved into trash bags and stuff sacks. So when Roshni notices two black trash bags by the Jeep, she assumes they're somebody's stuff. Just to be sure, she asks about them. I am in the midst of packing, and, not seeing what she's asking about, say "throw them in!" And so a week's worth of the Whitmarsh's trash (including dirty diapers) ends up underneath all the luggage. And traveling with us all the way to San Francisco. And festering for three days in the van.

Yep, that's us. We're the team who brings our trash with us!

Poor McKenzie must have wondered what kind of group she was forced to spend the week with, a group that carries its own trash across state lines.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mission Story #7

This one had slipped my mind. . .

It was Monday afternoon, and we'd finished serving lunch at St. Anthony's. Our team of seven was sent into the Mission District for a project entitled "Meet A Need." The team is given $20 and told to wander around, find somebody with a need, and use the $20 to meet it. Hence the name. (Oh: and you couldn't meet a need simply by giving somebody the money. That's a bad way to help people.)

So we wandered down the streets, trying to discern where God might be leading us. Diane, being Diane, chatted with a few ne'er-do-wells we passed; the teens, being teens, sort of clumped up and followed along.

At one point a lady passed us in a wheelchair, headed in the opposite direction. Diane, bringing up the rear, offered her an emphatic "How you doing today?" The woman seemed shocked and confused, staring at Diane like she was off her rocker. Diane made several more attempts at holding a conversation, but finally, deciding the woman was stoned out of her gourd, walked back toward our group. "Something fishy's going on there," she commented to me.

And she was right. At the same time she was attempting to talk to the woman, I noticed a young man decked out in full gang paraphernalia, yelling at somebody over his cell phone. I didn't catch the whole conversation, but caught such brief snatches as "What corner? You said you'd be at the corner!" and "We need to get this finished!" and "Where can I find you?" Then I watched him as he noticed Diane talking to the wheelchair lady, and let's just say you could tell he wasn't happy with what he saw. So he began walking swiftly toward them, just as Diane walked away.

So, the scenario, as I surmise it: he was attempting a drug deal, and using the wheelchair lady as his mule (I think that's the right word for it. . .). He was having a hard time connecting with his buyer, and was attempting to work out the deal over the phone, and suddenly noticed a strange woman talking to his drug-carrier. He was nervous already. I'm sure we unnerved him more.

Now, you might be saying "Dan, you're reading way too much into this." And I might have agreed, except for the fact that he stalked us for the next four blocks. Every time I turned around, he was on the other side of the street, pacing us exactly. When we stopped and I looked that way, he stopped and acted nonchalant. When we moved, he moved. And any number of times I caught him looking directly at us, only to look away when we made eye contact.

Eventually, I saw him yell something into his cell phone, whirl around, and run away. It was about the same time we found our need and met it (buying a tamale from a Honduran lady). And we didn't see him again.

I will say he looked dangerous. He had the look of a seasoned gang member who "knew his business." And he looked agitated. And the whole situation was just too weird for my taste. Who knows what he was thinking - that we were upsetting his deal? That maybe we were customers? Or maybe he couldn't figure us out, either, a bunch of tourists wandering the Mission District?

Anyway, it turned out well, God watched over us, and we all had a powerful time with the Honduran lady, with the Brazilian pastor we met 20 minutes later, and with Harrold, who we met in another hour.

Still, it's not always fun and games on the city streets.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A couple of things of great importance

1. John Cleese is twittering.

2. Ben Witherington has posted his take on Election. The theology, not the political process. I tend to agree with the position he's endorsing.

3. Speaking of Election, I voted today. Or, I voted last night, and it's in the mail today.

4. Olivia turned 8 yesterday. And we had a nice party for her. Kids, cake, homemade bbq pizzas. If only it hadn't rained.

5. And for those with time to kill, here's a synopsis on How We Spent Our Eleventh Anniversary:
The Plan:
- Drop the kids off with sitters
- Take a long bike ride along the Seattle Waterfront
- Shower and change at the Seattle YMCA
- Dinner at Juno, the new restaurant in the Historic Arctic Club - where our friend Holly works
- Home before it's too late.

But, the day got off to a late start due to slow kids and needing to stop in Vaughn to shoot some pictures for the paper. Plus, the more we thought about it, the more complicated it became to have the bikes with us. So, after kid #1 was dropped off, the new plan was:

- Take a
bike ridelong walk along the Seattle waterfront, enjoying the summer sun.
- Shower and change at the YMCA
- Dinner at Juno
- Home before it's too late.

However,

We didn't take into account that the 405, one of the 2 major north/south freeways, was closed in Bellevue for road deconstruction, so all that traffic would slide over to the 5, meaning the freeway was a parking lot from the Michigan curves through Northgate. Meaning we got to my parents an hour late to drop off kid #2. So, the new plan was:

- Take a
longshort walk along the Seattle waterfront, enjoying a little of the summer sun
- Quick washup and change at the YMCA
- Dinner at Juno
- Home before it's too late.

However,

I didn't take into account that Saturday was the Seattle Seahawks' Home Opener at Qwest Field. Thus, after driving through the tunnel under Seattle, heading south on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and exiting at the first downtown exit, we found ourselves in more gridlock. Not a problem - I know a shortcut!

A shortcut that was blocked by a slow-moving train. Oh, and after the train passed, we had to sit for five more minutes while the police ushered in the Chicago Bears' Team Busses.

So, the new new plan:
-
Take a walk on the Seattle Waterfront
- Short workout at the YMCA
- Dinner at Juno
- Home before it's too late.

Out of the mess, to the YMCA. Which seems to be deserted. Because, as we were shortly to find out, it was closed for the weekend for maintenance. We scroll through our plans: who do we know that has a shower we can use? do we just go into the public library and clean up in their restrooms? Wait! I know where there's another YMCA!

So over Capitol Hill to the East Madison YMCA, which, thankfully, is open.

New plan:
-
WorkoutQuick shower and change at the YMCA
- Dinner at Juno
- Home before it's too late

We're out of the YMCA before 5:00, and head over toward 3rd and Cherry to enjoy our leisurely dinner.

Only, due to the afore-mentioned football game, all parking in the area is either taken or $40. Oh, and this: the Seattle Waterfront is extra-full due to Hempfest going on over there. So any parking left from the football crowd is used up by the pot-loving crowd. (note: between the freaks dressed up for the game (you know, the blue heads and such) and the freaks wandering over from hempfest. . .it felt like driving through an early Mel Gibson film). I drop Karina off at Juno, and attempt to find parking. . .

Which I do, an hour later.

So now the plan is:
- Attempt to relax after such a crazy day
- Rush through dinner
- Try to get home before too late.

Dinner was lovely. Juno is an amazing restaurant. It was fun to see Holly in action. We had a great conversation with the head chef. The Arctic Club is a beautiful hotel.

After dinner, we headed back to my parents' to pick up child #2. The freeway was still a parking lot. We left for home just as the football game got out, leaving us on the freeway where 70,000 drunk fans were all attempting to merge. We got home late.

Ah, well. God is teaching me flexibility these days, for some reason. And considering the suffering some of my friends are going through these days, our day was more comical than anything. God has blessed us with two wonderful children, loving parents and rich friendships. We have every reason to rejoice and none to complain.

Although I would have liked to have had that bike ride.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Our little community has been hard hit lately. I suppose it started with R.J. who went in June to celebrate his mother's birthday, only to celebrate her homegoing instead. Then three weeks ago it was R&K, losing their unborn child. The next day it was M.F. receiving word her father was dying; they are now in Montana celebrating his Final Release from this life. This week it was W.L., finding out his nephew died of a heart attack in the middle of the night on Wednesday.

And today. . .we hear that 15-year-old P.A. was hit and killed by an SUV in Florida last night.

If you're the praying type, lift up our church and those who grieve. There are yet many tears to be shed, and a long time before many hallelujahs may be sung.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Something new about myself

I always thought I was an American. And I always thought I was a Christian.

According to Beth, though, I'm actually a Molinist.

I'm still scratching my head over this one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Music, Theology, and The Saving Grace of Jesus

Not too long ago I was speaking to Mark Baker on the issue of communicating the atonement. Baker is a former professor of mine in seminary, and the author of several books, including Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and the editor of its sequel, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross. Because of our relationship over the last 7 years, I was able to submit a chapter for Proclaiming, which, I'm always pleased to tell people, made it through the final cut and into the book.

At heart is the issue of atonement: what exactly did the cross accomplish? Baker's premise is that today we live too strongly with one story/metaphor: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. You've heard the story: We sinned, God became really angry, we deserved God's wrath, Jesus took God's wrath into himself on the cross, God was appeased and we received salvation through Jesus.

Historically, there have been other ways of looking at the cross. Biblically, there are certainly other ways of describing the work of Christ to bring salvation to his people. Some would argue that PSA should be only one of many metaphors (a la Scot McKnight), others would argue it's an unhealthy metaphor at best, so perhaps should be set aside for awhile.

In Recovering the Scandal, Baker and Joel Green make the case that even the biblical models of atonement are metaphors at best: none fully describe the intricate inner mechanics of salvation. They argue that the NT writers were doing their best to contextualize the message of the cross, bringing home the eternal message in contemporary words to impact local listeners. They thus encourage today's pastors, teachers, sunday school leaders, thinkers and theologians to come up with metaphors for atonement that speak to today's listeners: to tell "the old, old story" in such a way that it is faithful to the biblical texts but expands the models so that they impact today's listeners. They also, certainly, encourage us all to open up the biblical models and embrace the fuller range of atonement language, rather than focusing in on the "appeasement of wrath" message inherent in PSA.

So back to our conversation. Mark's question to me was "how do we get this message out? How do we reach people? How do we get their attention? How can we begin to impact the larger church culture with this message?" The PSA model is so central to so many presentations and understandings of the gospel that almost nobody is hearing that they have a choice to look at it differently. From the days we're in sunday school, up through "decision night" at camp, into the sermons we listen to and the songs we sing. . .they are all dripping with PSA language. So Mark's written these books, Scot McKnight recently added to the conversation with his A Community Called Atonement, but on the ground, word just doesn't seem to be getting out very quickly. So how do we change an entire culture?

About that same time, I was finishing up Her Heart Can See, the recent biography of Fanny J. Crosby, and it struck me how much our music influences our theology. The songs we sing as children, the songs we love in worship - whether or not we realize it, they teach us the things we come to believe are Truth. In Crosby's day, she was often criticized by theologians and composers as being "trite" and "given to emotionalism." Her hymns were simple and spoke simple truths of hope and faith and God's love. In many ways, the Evangelical Church owes its passion for evangelism to Crosby and other songwriters, who wrote songs like "Rescue the Perishing." Much of our sentimentalism is owed to her and others who wrote songs about Jesus as friend, as companion, as dear father waiting to welcome us home. And so it struck me: as long as we're singing songs that say "And on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied," people will continue to hold strongly to a PSA model. A changing of hymn lyrics could be one of the primary methods of getting people to think about this all differently. The truth is, theologians can argue about this until the cows come home, but one or two good songs could bring about quick change across the board.

And so it was that I was excited to hear the new song "Jesus Saves," by Travis Cottrell and David Moffit. (You can listen to it on Travis' MySpace Page). They paint one of the fullest, most robust pictures of atonement that I have heard in song. What I especially appreciate is that they reflect one of Scot McKnight's central tenets, and one that I have long felt was important: that the whole life of Jesus Christ, from birth to death to resurrection, is part of the atonement story. You cannot boil the whole thing down to one transaction that took place on the cross. Instead, from the incarnation, through the life and ministry of Jesus, on the cross and in the empty tomb, all are working together to bring about salvation for us and this world. And Cottrell and Moffit get it. Look closely at these lyrics, and note how they bring the whole story into The Story:

Hear the heart of heaven beating, "Jesus saves, Jesus saves."
And the hush of mercy breathing, "Jesus saves, Jesus saves."
Hear the host of heaven sing, "Glory to the newborn King."
And the sounding joy repeating, "Jesus saves."

And this is the part where they really nail it:
He will live, our sorrows sharing, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.
He will die, our burden bearing, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.
"It is done!" will shout the cross, "Christ has paid redemption's cost!"
And the empty tomb's declaring, "Jesus saves!"

Do you see it? The whole life of Christ is there - birth, life (identification), death and resurrection, all in one full picture of redemption. And the cross is there, the idea of paying the cost of redemption, but without bringing in an angry God in need of appeasement. You have substitutionary atonement there, without bringing in the Penal part of it. You have the necessity of the cross, but also the importance of Christ sharing in our sorrows throughout life. And you have it all brought to completion, not at the cross, but in the empty tomb.

It also helps that it's a great song, with a very catchy, singable melody, so it sticks in your head once you've heard it once or twice.

And this is exactly what is needed in the conversation. I encourage you to take a listen, and see if you can't get it into the rotation at your church, wherever that may be. And take time to consider: what other songs could contribute to this conversation?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mission Story #6

On the last day of our journey, following our worship experience at Vally Covenant, we headed off to the Hometown Buffet for brunch.

(btw - how do you say the word 'buffet'? My whole life I've heard it and spoken it with a hard "u", as in "lunch" or "bucket." But that weekend, and yesterday once again, I've heard people pronounce it with a soft "u", as in "duke" or "rule." So it sounded like "boofet." Why have I never ever heard it pronounced that way, and then 3 times in 2 weeks somebody uses that pronunciation?)

In Eugene, the Hometown Buffet is inside a shopping mall. So we had to walk through the mall to get to the restaurant. And we had to walk through the mall to leave the restaurant.

So get this: we're on our ninth day of travel, we've just finished a hard but wonderful week of ministry in and around San Francisco, we're happy to be heading home but missing San Francisco, our hearts are broken by all we've seen and experienced, we're still processing the lessons we learned, and wondering if we ought to go back sometime soon. . .

and as we leave the Hometown Buffet, as we walk through the mall and then exit through a promenade back toward the parking lot and our final push home. . .

over the overhead loudspeakers, the background music is playing, and it slowly dawns on us that they're playing Tony Bennett, singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

That's too much of a coincidence to purely be random. I have to think God was giving us a final "well done" for a good job accomplished on our week away, and perhaps a reminder to keep SF in our thoughts and prayers. . .and to quickly consider what comes next.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mission Story #5

The SF 2008 Video is now up on the Lakebay Community Church website.

http://www.lakebaycovenant.net/Media

On the LCC Video player, choose "2008 San Francisco Mission Trip," and then press "play." It's that simple.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Oh, the torture

We found out this week that The Infamous Stringdusters are playing in Ballard tonight. As in, my favorite band, playing our hometown.

But, the show doesn't start until 9:30 (about 30 minutes from now) and goes to midnight. Which doesn't really work well, seeing as how I am expected to be ready and capable to lead a church service first thing tomorrow morning. So. . .alas, we're missing it.

Perhaps not all would be lost, though. Driving through Seattle yesterday we saw a billboard for the Allison Krauss/Robert Plant tour, playing the Wamu theater in October. Ironically, we were listening to that exact CD when we drove by Safeco Field and saw the billboard. Yeah!, we thought. We get to see Allison Krauss!

Oh, wait a minute. Tickets are 70$ apiece (plus the service charge) for the cheap seats, $135 for the better ones.

I don't know about you, but I tend to balk at paying more than $50 for a concert. And even then, it better be special.

So, alas, we'll miss that one as well.

But wait! Chris Thile is playing in Seattle in October! Perhaps not all is lost. . .

Friday, August 08, 2008

Mission Story #4: a Tale of Three Churches

On the trip down to San Francisco, we stayed two nights with Brian Brown, pastor of New Hope Community Covenant Church in Antioch, CA. Brian and I became friends back when we were both youth pastors in the Central Valley, he in Stockton and me in Turlock. He (and his very pregnant wife Rachel) were gracious enough to let us all crash at their place and take over their bathrooms and kitchen for a bit.

On Sunday morning, we attended the worship service at New Hope. But it wasn't a normal service. New Hope meets in a school's auditorium, so they thought it would be a nice reflection of God's love to do a service project that morning, cleaning up trash around the school grounds. So they began with an abbreviated, 30-minute service, with the Lakebay team leading the music and Brian giving a short "talk," and then went into the service project. We joined them for a bit, and then headed off into our week of mission work in San Francisco.

On Thursday of that week, we attended the Evensong service at Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal mothership in San Francisco. Evensong is a hybrid Vespers/Compline service, made up of prayers and scriptures, some spoken and some sung. No sermon, no anouncements, just music and scripture. And the music is glorious, if you like classical music (not so much if you're preference is hip-hop or country). There is a majesty and holiness to the worship at Grace, a sense of awe and mystery that you don't usually get in contemporary music. So it's good to take part of, every once in awhile.

On the way home, we spent the night at Valley Covenant in Eugene. On Sunday mornings, they hold a short communion service before the regular worship service. It's about 30 minutes of scripture, prayer, and then the Lord's Supper. Our group joined them for this service, electing to leave before the main service kicked off, so that we could get some breakfast and then drive home. And it was a blessed time; I think our people really enjoyed the simple yet elegant format, and the opportunity to share Communion with our brothers and sisters from Oregon.

But you see the thread, right? Three churches, all "alternative" services. All focusing on music and scripture, with little or no speaking by the preacher-man. Three services that all lasted 30-45 minutes at the longest.

And so it was that one of our younger group members, one with little church experience besides Lakebay, came up to me following Valley Covenant's service and asked "Dan, do they ever preach sermons in other churches, or is that just something we made up at Lakebay?"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mission Story #3

This might be my defining moment for the trip.

Our group of seven was on a city search, a scavenger-hunt type trip throughout the Tenderloin and Market District. Since I know the city so well, I chose to stay back and let the other five negotiate their way around.

From the beginning, it was a disaster. And not particularly because of anything the group did. A bus driver sent them off in the wrong direction, and from there it became a comedy of misjudgments, bad directions, unhelpful maps and pedestrians lacking in general city knowledge.

About 90 minutes into the adventure, the team was studying a map, trying to figure out where they were. The map was attached to the side of one of those automatic, self-cleaning restrooms located around the city. We were just east of the UN Plaza; it was sunny and warm. Tourists and locals were milling around us. I stood about 15 feet away from the group, watching them trying to figure out where to go next. We were growing ever more frustrated at how the whole endeavor was playing out.

Suddenly, the door of the automatic washroom opened up, and two hispanic-looking men walked out together. Both were cinching up their pants. And for a moment, just before the door slid shut,  I caught a glimpse of a woman, slumped against the back wall inside, her pants down around her knees, her posture that of someone extremely stoned. Then the door shut.

The two men kept walking to the east, blending into the crowd. A chinese woman stood and yelled at the push-button on the side of the washroom. Our team, oblivious to all that had just happened, continued to study the map.

When the team began to move, I held back, hoping the door would open and we could make sure the woman was okay. But it didn't open, and we were soon in danger of losing the team. So someone went and talked to a security guard. Who did nothing. She then tried to flag down a passing police officer, but he ignored her. And, not wanting to be separated from the group, we were forced to walk away, leaving her as one more sad tale from a broken city.

What really jumped out at me, as I reflected on the moment, was how our group, so entranced by the map, so focused on the task, remained completely ignorant of this moment of such brokenness, such betrayal, such evil, a moment which occurred mere feet from where they stood. Only I saw what happened, and that only because I was standing back, silent, watching.

I don't know that anything seared my soul like that moment over the course of the week. Truthfully, the team did nothing wrong; they were staying on task, just like they were supposed to. But it became, for me, a metaphor of how much in life we miss by rushing through life, doing the things we're supposed to be doing, when, in reality, such brokenness and pain are all around us.

And it truly shocked me into the reality that this is no game, these are not all nice people. The level of pain and depravity go beyond even what we might imagine. There is a war here, and the stakes are high. At any moment we may run into the evil one, we might run into those destroyed by his games. And sometimes there's not much you can do, except pray.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mission Story #2

On Tuesday, we served lunch at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Oakland. We started the day folding napkins and aprons, pouring juice, and interacting with the other volunteers there.


Karina had a long conversation with one in particular - Nivana, a high school girl from Oakland, who serves there to fulfill volunteer hours necessary for graduation.

Around 11:00 we began to serve lunch to homeless and low-income men, women, and families in the area. I found myself on the serving line, standing between Nivana and and our own Kate McCourt. Kate was dishing up a chicken cassarole, I was scooping on the salad. Nivana handled the peaches.


As we served up the food, the conversation continued. Eventually, Nivana said "My grandmother lives in Washington."

"Where?" I asked.

"Somewhere near Gig Harbor."

"We live near Gig Harbor. Do you know where exactly she lives?"

"Um, it starts with a W I think."

"Not Wauna?"

"Yeah - Wauna. That's it."

For all you non-locals, Wauna is the tiny community at the Purdy Spit, a mere 15 miles or so north of Lakebay. We all regularly drive through Wauna to go into town. Ask 100 people in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area where Wauna is, and 99 won't have a clue. Yet here we are in Oakland, California, serving next to a young lady whose grandmother lives there. What are the odds?

But it gets better.

"She sometimes leads Bible studies at the Purdy Women's Prison."

We have people in our church who sometimes serve/minister at the Purdy women's prison.

And then it got really freaky, or cool, depending on how you look at it.

As we worked it all out, we discovered that Nivana's grandmother graduated from Tacoma Community College last spring. Kate graduated from TCC last spring. In other words, they graduated together. And Nivana was there, to see her grandmother graduate. So. unbeknownst to each other, they were at the same graduation in Tacoma last spring. Nivana saw Kate graduate. And now, in late July, they were both standing on the same serving line at St. Vincent de Paul in Oakland.

If you ask me, that's pretty neat. Almost like God's sense of humor shining through for a brief moment.
________
Postscript: Later that day, our team had a scavenger hunt-type activity throughout the tenderloin and Market districts. Part of the activity was designed to force the team to interact with locals, seeking out information and directions. The first person the team interviewed was a librarian at the SF library. Turns out she's from Shelton, another small Washington town about 30 miles away. The second person they interviewed was a woman sitting by the fountain at the bottom of UN plaza. Only she was from Seattle, so didn't have much to say about life in SF.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mission Story, #1

It all begins, I suppose, with the drive from Lakebay to the Bay Area.

We left the church parking lot Friday morning at 6:05 a.m., with excitement and anticipation. The plan was to reach Antioch by 8:00 p.m. that night, getting in a good night's sleep before spending Saturday doing touristy things.

After picking up the Fishers in Gig Harbor, we drove off onto the interstate, heading south through the morning traffic.

Somewhere around Kelso, the speedometer in the van stopped working. Not a huge deal, I think to myself. We have two vehicles, so the other can pace us. We can get it fixed when we reach the Bay Area.

Then the "Check Engine" light comes on. Probably related to the speedometer, I think, but worth checking out. So off at Kalama to pop the hood. Looking at the engine, I see nothing that would cause a speedometer to stop working. But. . .I see coolant dripping off the engine to he ground below. Just overflow, I wonder?

Back on the road, we decide to stop at the final rest stop before the Oregon border. Kids need to pee, drivers need more coffee. Now we notice a growing puddle of coolant below the van. We pop the hood, Duncan and I poke around. Finally he figures it out - a steady spray coming from the top corner of the radiator.

Probably nothing fatal, but not a condition in which I want to drive over the Siskiyous. I begin to get just a little worried.

But I know people in a lot of places. So I make a phone call to my uncle Ralph in Portland, who calls his mechanic, who agrees to see us right away. And just like that, we're back on the road, heading south to Tigard.


We meet my uncle at the mechanic's shop. One quick look and we get the bad news. "Your radiator's shot. You'll need a new one." I'm thinking this means we leave the van and pay for a rental. But no, he says. "Should take 2-3 hours." And they can check the speedometer while they're at it. And. . .since we're a church group, and his dad was a minister and his brother is a minister, he's knocking $150 off the cost.

We decide to wait it out at my aunt and uncle's house. Most head over there, while Ralph and I and three guys go order Papa John's pizza for lunch. After we've ordered the Papa John's guys asks "and can I ask what kind of group this is for?" I tell him a youth group on a mission trip. He says "Okay, since it's a church group I'll knock 30% off the total price."

So we had an early break, a nice pizza lunch, the kids took a walk on the trail behind my uncle's house, Karina had a good talk with my Aunt Diane. . .and finally, three hours later, the van was up and running with a new radiator and a fixed speedometer.

That was the last trouble we had with the vehicles on the entire trip.

The rest of the drive was long, but uneventful. The mountains through northern California were smoky with fires, so we couldn't see Mt. Shasta, but when the moon came up to the east it shone a bloody red through the haze (at that time, "Hotel California" was playing on the radio. seemed like it must signify something, but I didn't know what). And, unfortunately, due to losing 3 hours with the radiator, and another 30 minutes with the first speedometer check, and losing time to road construction, we didn't actually arrive at our destination in Antioch until sometime after 2:00 a.m. Saturday. That was a long, long, long drive, I tell you what.

But we made it. And God showed he was with us throughout.

Final mission pic


Just before we left SF. . .

Monday, August 04, 2008

Maybe this answers my earlier question

One blessing of our trip home from San Francisco was spending the night at Valley Covenant Church in Eugene, Oregon. For some time I've known the pastor of Valley Covenant, Steve Bilynskyj, through various mutual friendships and Covenant activities.

Over the years I've become friends with Steve's wife Beth, as well. Only it's all been online. Beth and I are both on Abet, a Covenant e-mail discussion list, so we've interacted there for 5-6 years. Beth is a blogger, and I read her stuff regularly. And I know she checks in here at my Hole in the Wall pretty, leaving kind comments from time to time. So we've become friends without ever actually meeting.

It was thus a pleasure to find myself sitting in the foyer of her church on Sunday morning as she walked in and introduced herself to the group. It was even more a joy to worship next to her and share the Lord's Supper with her. And I think she and Karina hit it off well, too.

I guess this is an answer to all that pondering I was doing a few weeks ago, wondering if technology can actually enhance life and give aid to the things that are truly important to me. Because it was kind of like old friends meeting again, and in many ways, technology made that possible.

Or, to be more precise, it was good people properly using technology that made that possible. Maybe there's an answer there worth pursuing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008