Thursday, April 30, 2009

For those with discriminating musical tastes

On Friday, May 8, the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra will be performing its season finale concert at St. John's Episcopal Church. The concert will begin at 7:00 p.m., and run approximately two hours, with a brief intermission.

Musical selections will include:
Schubert: Overture in the Italian Style
Mozart: Turkish Violin Concerto
Haydn: Symphony 104 (London)

This concert will feature GHPSO concertmaster Dr. Joshua Friedlander, as well as guest conductor Dr. Nikolas Caoile.

Admission is free, although there is a suggested donation of $10 per adult, $25 per family.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Question of Testimony

I grew up in the church. Went to youth group, went to camp, went to youth rallies. Then went to Christian schools, went to a lot of chapels. Then went into youth ministry, where I took a lot of youth to all those camps and all those youth rallies.

Many of those events featured a "testimony." A youngish woman or man (come to think about it, 9 out of 10 times it was a man) would get up and share the story of how they came to faith in Christ Jesus.

Inevitably, the story went like this:

Said person grew up in a (good/bad) home, and (in spite of/because of) that they entered into a time of rebellion. Sex, drugs, alcohol, partying, hot women, wild and crazy nights. . .that all gave way to feelings of loneliness and desperation. At some point, they were confronted with the claims of Jesus, they turned their life over to God, things were straightened out, and now they are living faithful lives telling others to live for Jesus. If you hear an echo of the Prodigal Son story, that was usually pretty intentional.

Over time, I began to realize there was a subtle, unintended subtext going on below that message; namely, this: go ahead and party now, have lots of sex, drink and do drugs for now, and then when you're 25 you can turn back to Jesus and he'll make everything better.

Here's the problem. That original testimony works if it's being told to people who are down there at the bottom, people who are desperate, in the mud with the pigs, looking for a way out. But when you're telling the same story to a bunch of relatively good teenagers/college students who are facing all sorts of peer pressure to jump into the partying/drug/casual sex scene, you've essentially told them: Look - here's somebody who chose not to seek righteousness, and in the end it turned out okay for them! Following their example, you get all the fun of the sin, and redemption if things turn out less-than-stellar.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that was the intent of the testimony-teller. And I'm sure the testimony-teller would say they regret all the bad choices they made, the memories and scars they live with, that going down those roads just wasn't worth it.

But that's not the story most often told. Instead, it's "I got to do all the sins, and God made everything ok!"

Never, in all those years, did I hear even one testimony that went "I got married last year, and I was still a virgin on our wedding night." Never did I hear "I chose to stay home when my friends went out and got drunk, I sacrificed any hope at being cool because I didn't sleep around, I didn't go out to the keggers. I've never been drunk, never done drugs. . .it wasn't easy, and it took the help of a lot of people around me, but I have spent my whole life pursuing right living, and I can say to you, it's been worth it!"

Let me ask: which do teens who are struggling to make right choices need to hear more: a whole litany of people who chose wrongly, who behaved immorally, messed up and then received forgiveness, or the stories of people who actually did survive their teenage years and young adulthood, who chose not to sleep around, who made it to their wedding night with their virginity intact (and didn't die along the way), who avoided the pitfalls of excessive drinking, and of drug use?

Okay, it's a false question. They need both. The church needs both. I get that. And I get the push back - if we focus on getting it right, that can lead to empty legalism. If we always hear of the people who are "good," that can be shameful to those who have chosen the way of rebellion and sin. The focus is on God's grace, not our own righteousness. I get that.

But I would say we've gone too far. We've sold out to the sensationalism of the "powerful story of God's grace to reform the worst of sinners," and we've done our youth a huge disservice along the way by silencing the voices that would say "you know what? You can actually do this. You can say no to sex. You can say no to drugs. You can choose to not cheat on those tests. You can be a "good" kid, and have a lot of fun along the way. Look - look at all these people who did live their lives seeking holiness, accountability, righteousness. Listen to the saints saying "we chose obedience, and it's been the best choice we could have made."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not to make light of a serious issue, but. . .

My girls got back from Mexico a couple weeks ago. Clara's been playing in her room, and now it resembles what we would metaphorically call a "pig sty."

Should I call the doctor?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NPC Annual Meeting

A couple months ago I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist - a post-op check up. I mentioned I'd been in Chicago for some church meetings.

His question: "I suppose church meetings must be all politics, like medical meetings and everything else."

And I had to tell him, "Maybe with other churches. But that's not my experience with the Covenant Church."

This weekend's North Pacific Conference Annual Meeting proved it once again. Passion for mission, humility and grace, friendship and fellowship - that's what marks these meetings. From the newest person to the denominational bigwigs, all are welcome and all are made to feel at home.

Last night I joined a friend for snacks at a local establishment, after everything else was finished for the night. And who should be at the table next to us but the conference superintendent, the conference associate superintendent, the executive VP of the denomination, and the former president of the denomination, and their spouses. And they all chatted with us, asking how we were doing. . .and even paid our bill.

I am still amazed at the blessing that is the Covenant Church. I have never been associated with a better group of people in my life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Short Poem for Earth Day

(I know I said I wouldn't be blogging much this week. . .that's why I'm simply quoting other people)

Wendell Berry, from The Sabbath Poems, 1982, VII

The clearing rests in song and shade.
It is a creature made
By old light held in soil and leaf,
By human joy and grief,
By human work,
Fidelity of sight and stroke,
By rain, by water on
The parent stone.

We join our work to Heaven's gift,
Our hope to what is left,
That field and woods at last agree
In an economy
Of widest worth.
High Heaven's Kingdom come to earth.
Imagine Paradise.
O dust, arise!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

James Alison - Knowing Jesus

What [Jesus] gave the disciples on his resurrection, therefore, was the ability to follow him without death being a stumbling block. There was nothing left that might cause his disciples to stumble – death was swallowed up in victory. Now, see what this led them to understand: it led them to understand that all stumbling blocks – all relations where people are locked in with each other as stumbling blocks, where imitation and learning is distorted by rivalry – are related to death. The presence to them of the crucified and risen Lord was what enabled them to learn to imitate pacifically, having the deepest bonds of their relationships which were cast in modes of stumbling, loosed, so that they might no longer live towards death, but instead live with death as an incidental side issue.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A long week

I think I'm going to take a break here. The sun is shining and the air is warm, and I need to get out there and enjoy it.

Also. . .this afternoon I'm leading a funeral for a 14-month-old boy who died last week; apparently a SIDS case, although they don't know that for sure yet.

A couple hospital visits to make tomorrow or Wednesday morning,

then off to Oregon for the NPC Annual Meeting. I get to hang out with my sister and a couple old friends, as well, so I'm looking forward to the quick trip.

But then it's back, and sometime over the weekend a graveside memorial for a child who died before it was born.

Plus all the 'normal' stuff of writing sermons and preparing for Confirmation and orchestra practice. Life is full, life is deep and painful.

So forgive me if this place stays silent for a few days. I need the space in life to attend to other things.

Friday, April 17, 2009

He's Holy

It's one of those moments. We were in Upland, at the in-laws' house. I was upstairs, flipping through TV channels, Karina called me to come down so we could head out into the day. I flipped one more station. . .and there sat this amazing band, playing a most enchanting melody; I couldn't leave until it was over. And so I was introduced to Peter Ostroushko, and I first heard "Heart of the Heartland." The band, of course, was Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion band. And the song has been with me ever since. It's available on the Prairie Home anniversary DVD, it's on Ostroushko's "Heart of the Heartland" CD, and it's all over Ken Burns' "Lewis and Clark" soundtrack. It still floors me every time I hear it.

"Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" is important, too. It's the opening hymn in the liturgy for the ordination service of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Thus, every time it's played, it takes me back to that moment in 2005 when this church put their official hand of blessing on me as one set apart to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. It's a beautiful song with powerful lyric; it also carried deep personal significance.

Finally, "He's Always Been Faithful" and "Hide Thou Me" become important in the moment; too many people walking through too many dark spaces in life. The storms have been blowing around here; it's good to be reminded of God's faithfulness and shelter even at the darkest moments.

He's Always Been Faithful
- Sara Groves
He Was a Friend of Mine - Nanci Griffith
Heart of the Heartland - Peter Ostroushko (from the Lewis and Clark soundtrack)
Here I Am, Lord - St. Olaf Choir
Here is our King - David Crowder Band
Hey Jude - Joe Anderson (from the Across the Universe soundtrack)
Hide Thou Me - Iris Dement
Highwayman - Johnny Cash (the Highwaymen)
Hold It Up to the Light - David Wilcox
Holiday in Spain - Counting Crows
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name - St Olaf Choir
Holy is the Lord God, Almighty - Chris Tomlin

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Signs of a cultural tipping point

Last week we held our annual Maundy Thursday remembrance service. It's a quiet time of reflection, in which we retell the story, going back to the first Passover and working forward to the Last Supper. As part of the service we gather around the table and celebrate the Sacrament of Communion. It's a thoughtful, quiet, beautiful time to remember Christ's sacrifice.

We hand out a bulletin for the service, which contains all the scriptures and other readings. In addition, it contained the lyrics to the one song we sang that didn't come out of the hymnal. For the rest of those songs, it simply listed the title and hymn number.

Now, the truth is, we don't use hymnals very often in our Sunday morning worship celebrations, choosing instead to project the lyrics up on an overhead screen. However, we do have hymnals in the pews, and we always list hymn numbers in our bulletin, whenever we happen to sing a song that is contained the the blue Covenant hymnal.

And, up to this point, it's seemed to work. But this year, I sensed a shift. As we began singing the second song of the service, I noticed a lot of confusion around me. People looking into their bulletins, people fiddling with their hymnals, people on the correct page but still looking confused. And here's what I think happened: for the first time, we had a large contingent of people who just didn't know what to do with a hymnal. They didn't know how to find the right page, and, if they got there, they didn't seem to understand how to follow the lyric on the page, let alone read the melody and harmony lines to sing along. Most confusing was Glen Kaiser's "Behold the Lamb of God," which ought to have been the simplest, with its unison melody and simple melody and lyric; however, the song has not only a 1st and 2nd ending, but a bridge that breaks up the middle of the song. And I suspect that the majority of people sitting in there were completely lost by the time we jumped to the bridge.

What it all means, I'm not sure. There certainly were a number of people there who were used to hymnals, who were used to reading music; I'm not describing everybody. But there were enough, perhaps even a majority, who suffered in silence while the rest of us haltingly sang along, wondering why more weren't joining in.

I suppose it does mean next year we'll just have to put all the lyrics in the handouts, although that means an extra page and that much more paper used. But it also points toward song selection. Some of these songs don't come around except at Lent, same as with Easter and Christmas. The bulk of our repertoire is comprised of songs we sing the rest of the year. Which means we're being a little unfair to our people, singing one set of songs most of the year, and then replacing them with different songs for special services like Maundy Thursday. It's only that, until now, we could pull out "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" or "What Wondrous Love is This?" or "Behold the Lamb of God," and you would have a core of people who knew those songs, who loved those songs, who sang those songs with depth and passion. That core seems to be dwindling, being replaced by a core who know none of those songs.

So, I suppose we could work some of those songs in more regularly, but I think that may be a hopeless cause. It most likely means we need to find songs that speak the same message, but that our people already know. It's not fair to force them to learn something new (I see the irony, of course - when our old songs are "new" to so many), when they've gathered for a special moment like Maundy Thursday or Christmas Eve.

It's just that I know those songs and love those songs. So it's difficult for even me to recognize I need to give up those things in order to better serve the whole.

A few years ago I went to a worship seminar, and the leaders talked with great excitement about all the new hymns that were being written. "We're in a resurgence of hymnody!" they proclaimed. Even then, I thought that was wishful thinking. Truly, those days are dying more quickly than we'd care to admit. One could point at many reasons - the lack of music education in schools, the 'coolness' factor of sports over choir, the replacement of family song time with Guitar Hero (who needs to learn to read music when you can do the same thing with colored buttons?), the victory of solo-driven pop music over choirs and group singing; I know there's more.

But the point, to me, is that we can no longer put out hymnals, and assume that everybody will follow along. That day, apparently, is over.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If the Kingdom of God is a Feast. . .

. . .then we're getting a head start on things. Two Sundays ago we followed our morning worship with a potluck lunch in honor of a saint who was turning 90. Last Sunday we had a marvelous Easter breakfast, and enough leftovers that lunch could be served following our time of celebration. And this coming Sunday we're having a taco feed to coincide with our semi-annual business meeting.

Oh, and then there was Saturday, when the men gathered for our monthly breakfast; this time round was biscuits and gravy.

So, yes, we're getting a jump on that old Marriage Supper of the Lamb. At this rate, I fear, we'll already be full when we get there.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Soggy Sunrise

Here we are, suffering for Jesus.

(thanks to Gail for the pix)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bike Ride Report

2nd ride of the season. It rained. Then stopped raining, but remained cloudy. Olivia joined me this time around.

Ride: Pierce County Foothills Trail, Meeker-Orting subdivision
Trail: Former NP/BN rail line, slowly being transformed to multi-use trail.
Distance: 17.1 Miles
Time: 2+ hours
# of fields in which rhubarb was growing: 3
# of Christmas Tree farms: 2
# of bridges crossed: 2
# of little red cabooses: 4
# of motorbikes in the parking lot of the Orting City Park: 75 (approx.)
# of Mormons who passed us along the trail: 2 (well, that were in uniform, anyway)
# of really cool old barns: 3
# of beautiful river valleys now over-run with generic housing subdivisions: 1
# of cows relieving themselves along the trail: 1
Minutes Olivia cried after losing the penny she had just found: 15

All in all, an excellent ride. We'll be back.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Glass - Hard

"God walks the dark hills 'cause he loves you and me"
"Amazing grace how sweet the sound, amazing love now flowing down from hands and feet that were nailed to a tree, as grace flows down and covers me."

Glass Elevator
- The Infamous Stringdusters
Go - Plumb
God Almighty - Chris Tomlin
God Walks the Dark Hills - Iris Dement
Golden Ticket - The Infamous Stringdusters
Goodbye California - Jolie Holland
Goodbye is all We Have - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Grace Falls Down - Christy Nockels

Gravity - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Great is Thy Faithfulness - St. Olaf Choir
Hanginaround - Counting Crows
Hard Times Come Again No More - Nanci Griffith

Perhaps as it should be

While the few of us gathered to remember Maundy Thursday. . .

the rest of the world went on with hardly a notice. Between baseball, Thursday night television, and the Britney Spears tour landing in Tacoma, I'm certain very few people truly paused to remember this holy night; just as, in the big scheme of things, many more will enjoy a nice Sunday of sleeping in, late breakfast, and basketball on the telly than will be showing up for cold sunrise services, for Easter celebrations.

It does seem striking, when you stop to think about it. The remnant gathered to repeat ancient texts dealing with betrayal ("Is it I, Lord?") and death, to sing songs that are slow and deep ("What wondrous love is this, O my soul?"), to quietly ponder this sacrificial death 2000 years ago. . .

While thousands upon thousands spend their hard-earned money to go sit through a couple hours of Britney Spears caterwauling and prancing, and actually somehow believe that is time well-spent.

I suppose that's the way it should be, though. Jesus has always drawn the few and the not-so-proud, while the world runs away with the masses. Jesus continually drew his circle smaller, pushing the level higher and higher until most left him, saying "this is too hard - who can accept this?" Jesus was never about shows and special effects for the purpose of drawing a crowd. Jesus simply did what he had to do. He died for you and he died for me. He even died for Britney Spears.

We who serve him would be wise to remember this lesson: At any given moment, Jesus is never the most popular guy in the room; at any given moment, those who serve Jesus are the minority group reciting ancient texts and muttering about the deepest things of life, while the crowds are chasing after the ever-shifting winds of popularity and success. Our Savior started with a crowd; he ended up alone on a tomb. And he calls us to the same.

Happy Good Friday, everybody.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A lesson from warts, for Maundy Thursday

I have a wart on my finger. It's been there for a year or so. A couple times I've tried to get rid of it using homeopathic home remedy stuff. But none of that worked. So two weeks ago I visited Dr. Schmidt and asked him to please help me rid myself of this pest.

He applied the cold stuff, it scabbed up, and yesterday, when I went back for my follow-up, he was amazed at how much better it all looked. Although, I had to have another treatment, and it will still take awhile for it to be gone.

But I was struck by his explanation of a wart, and how we get rid of them. Turns out, a wart is a little self-contained unit sitting between the skin (although they tend to break out through the skin) and the body's innards. (medical professionals will have to excuse my lay-person's explanation here).

To get rid of the wart, Dr. Schmidt said, we freeze it, which causes the cells of the wart to break down, which then allows the body's immune system to get into the wart, thus healing the body from the inside out. The treatment doesn't heal the wart, the treatment simply creates the right conditions for the body to heal itself.

A few days later, I had a conversation with a person struggling with a hardened heart. This person had known their share of woundings, of failed trust, of brokenness. This person had put their trust out there a number of times, only to be crushed every time. They were having a difficult time learning to trust, learning to hope, learning to live in the belief that All will be made Well in Christ.

I was reminded of a poem I wrote many, many years ago. Just a little ditty, I think I wrote more for the rhyme scheme than for the deeper meaning. And yet. . .it's become almost prophetic.

I built a wall around my heart
inside of which to hide;
outwardly I never hurt,
but inwardly I died.

I find, in many ways, this becomes the theme verse of my life, and my life's work is seeking to undo that wall, to allow Life to flow back in. Truthfully, it's only natural. We're all created with defense mechanisms that help us negotiate a dangerous world. But those same defense mechanisms often leave us cold, lonely, mistrusting. We were created to live in a web of relationships with God and others, but over time we've learned that relationships hurt; the more hurt we feel, the more we close ourselves off from others, the more we learn that trusting isn't safe. We reach the point where we no longer hurt outside, but inside is another story. Our souls lay dying and dormant inside these fortresses we have created. We long to reach out, but we know that reaching out will only lead to more pain and sorrow. And the tension is unbearable.

Enter in the wart. Like the wart, I believe our hearts/souls become these self-contained little units, impenetrable, unhealed, broken, causes of pain and suffering. They have closed themselves off, and thus cannot be healed. Many try so many forms of self-medication, but in the end, nothing can break through, nothing can bring fresh, healing blood into that place.

The key, though, lies not in finding the medication that will heal. The key comes in breaking up that shell, and allowing the healing to take care of itself. We who are in Christ have the healing power of His Spirit dwelling in us. The cure for the Problem is already there, ready to do its job; the key is simply letting it.

Look at it this way: I can try to 'manufacture' my healing; I can look at my finger and say "You shouldn't have a wart! Get Better!" but that will never work. Other people can come along and say "That's gross. You shouldn't have that wart." But it won't go away. Even now, there's nothing I can do to heal the wart. The works been done. I just have to let the body do its thing. About all I can do is apply a little ointment to help speed up the process.

I recognize now that this is the answer to the heart problem. I can't tear down those walls, I can't just tell myself to get better. None of us can wake up one day and say "Well, that's over, so let's just pick ourselves up and be healed." It's not in our power. (note: this is why it's not helpful for the rest of us to say to each other, 'You just need to learn to trust more.')

It's not about us!

It's about letting the Spirit of God do what the Spirit of God does - flood into broken spaces with healing.

It's about creating conditions that open up the door for the Spirit to work. It's about breaking up the walls of that shell, in order that the Spirit can enter in and destroy the evil cells, renewing and healing the good, healthy cells.

Which means it's mostly out of our hands. Yes, I had to go visit Dr. Schmidt to begin the process. In the same way, we need to go to God, the Heavenly Physician, and show him the problem. And tell him "I've tried to heal this thing, but it won't go away." And let him start the process.

I also have to do a little work, putting on ointment every night. In the same way, it helps if we do our part - spending time in God's word, spending time in prayer, sharing time with fellow Christ-followers. There are nights I'd rather go to bed and not have to deal with the ointment, the bandaids, the time it takes. But I do it because I know it helps. . . a little. So, too, taking the steps to walk toward spiritual healing isn't always easy, it's not always something we want to do; but if we choose to, it certainly helps.

And here's the thing - I doubt I'll know the moment the wart is gone. One day I'll simply look and say "Wow! I'm healed!" In the same way, this heart-healing process happens whether we're paying attention or not. The Spirit is quiet that way, doing His work behind the scenes, under the skin, a little bit at a time. And one day, I believe, we wake up to the sunshine around us, to the wind in the trees, to a smile in our hearts, and we say, "Wow! I think I'm healed!"

Tonight, Maundy Thursday, and tomorrow and Saturday and Easter Sunday all prove that God isn't about big shows and fantabulous special effects. The Kingdom of God is like yeast, like a mustard seed, like a man stooping to wash a few friends' feet, like a man rising from the dead when nobody's around to be amazed by it, like the wind of the Spirit that comes and goes as it pleases, like the immune system of the body, doing its work silently and effectively even when we don't notice.

All that's left for us is to say "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner," and "Lord, heal me, a broken and contrite heart."All that's left is for us to come to the table and receive his Body and Blood once again. And then, even though it's scary, even though it hurts. . .then, we trust.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

When Words are Worthless

Like just about every pastor on this planet, I'm pondering the coming weekend. Tomorrow we celebrate Maundy Thursday, then on through Good Friday to Easter Morning. This is the highest point of celebration for those who are called the Sons and Daughters of God, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, conqueror of evil, defeater of death, Hope and Life for all who believe.

If there is ever a weekend for which we need to choose our words carefully, this is it.

But we live in a world in which words have lost their power and punch. Words, which used to represent Ideas and Meanings, are now just one more tool in the hands of lesser people known as advertisers. Words have been co-opted to mean much less than they used to mean.

Take the word "epic." What should "epic" mean? Epic once meant Heroic, Grandeur, Historic, Grandly-Sweeping-Across-The-Land. Epic would describe Hercules, Epic would describe a few hundred soldiers fighting back tens of thousands of their enemies. Epic might describe Neil Armstrong stepping upon the plains of the moon.

Epic has been co-opted by the Outdoor Adventure Crowd. Now, "epic" means a nice bike ride down the side of a mountain, or a freefall before the parachute opens, or even a bungee jump. I get it - people who do these things do so because they want more than the mundane office-and-SUV life, and living these adventures helps them feel like part of something so much more alive, so much bigger than 'normal life.' But still. . ."epic" would once mean once-in-every-ten-generations; today, thousands of men and women are having 'epic' adventures every single weekend of summer.

Even worse are the way words have been twisted and tormented in the hands of copy-writers trying to get you into the mall or the grocery store. Amazing now describes a new pair of shoes, Powerful now describes an mp3 player, and, perhaps most troubling, Miraculous can now describe a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

Words meant to describe the mind-bending, the truly out-of-this-world, the particularly rare or great are now attached to the common, the fad, the fleeting, in order to convince the purchaser that they are somehow taking part in something important.

But then, I flail about looking for a word to describe what happened Easter morning. I quickly become disheartened, for if all the BIG WORDS no longer mean BIG THINGS, what will people think when we use those same BIG WORDS to describe the one truly BIG ACT of history? If people translate Miraculous as "chocolate chip cookies," what will they think when I describe the empty tomb as miraculous? If people equate Epic with a bike ride through the woods, what will they think when I describe Christ's life as epic? If Amazing, Awesome, Stupendous all describe cars, stereos, and soup, how can those same words describe the King of the Universe laid dead in a tomb? How can they ever hope to describe a tomb now empty, and Life Everlasting poured out upon the universe?

If our language has been co-opted, twisted, and destroyed. . .what ever is left? What language shall we borrow to describe our dearest Friend? How do we get beyond that false set of assumptions so insidiously implanted by Madison Avenue and Hollywood?

When words have been gutted of their worth. . .what is the Preacher to say?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bike Ride Report

1st ride of the season, and the weather was spectacular.

Route: Southern Key Peninsula and Penrose Point State Park
Miles: 10
Time: 1 hour (plus a 20 minute pause at Penrose Pt to read Wendell Berry poetry whilst watching the sun play off the bay, ducks flying high overhead, small birds diving for fish, and the sheer majesty of a clear blue sky)
Dogs by which I was chased: 8
Fields in which llamas were grazing: 1
Swamps filled in with skunk cabbage: 3
Magnificent views of Mt. Rainier: 2
Abandoned hulks of boats lying beside the road: 2
Horses: 2
Times I had to stop for road construction: 1

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Humor for Holy Week

If Facebook had been around at the time of the Passion of the Christ.

(rated pg for some mild language. . .)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Folsom - Give

Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
For You - John Denver
Foreverandever, etc. - David Crowder Band
Fork in the Road - The Infamous Stringdusters
Free (Take My Life) - Jill Paquette
Friend of the Devil - Counting Crows
Froggy Went a-Courtin' - Bruce Springsteen
From Now On - Sierra Hull
Get it While You Can - The Infamous Stringdusters
Get Me Through December - Alison Krauss
Giants in the Sky - Mandy Patinkin
Give Me the Simple Life- Steve Tyrell


Eight years ago (or thereabouts), I went with a group from our church to hear about this new Alpha Program - supposedly all the rage among evangelism circles. I knew a little about it going in, but hadn't yet heard the details. The Covenant Church had endorsed Alpha, and was encouraging local churches to use Alpha in their efforts to reach the world outside their walls, so I was interested to hear more.

And I was hooked. And have remained hooked ever since. Friends of mine have run Alpha in their churches, and the stories coming out have been powerful. I've driven through towns and seen signs for Alpha, I've sat in gatherings and listened to others talk about the impact of Alpha in their communities. And through all that. . .I've never been a part of a church that's used Alpha. We tried a couple times while in Turlock; at least, we attempted to plant seeds in people's hearts that we hoped would cause some of them to jump on board and make it go. . .but nobody ever seemed all that interested.

When I was called to Lakebay, one of the challenges given me was "help us evangelize this Peninsula!" The nature of the Key Peninsula makes evangelism a little dicey. Most homes sit back from the road down long, dirt driveways, hidden deep in the woods. More than a few have homeowners who would as soon shoot at you as welcome you in for lemonade and cookies. We have our share of 'cash crop' farmers out here (think marijuana and meth. . .) who don't take kindly to strangers showing up at the door. Plus, it's the Northwest, it's the Puget Sound area, it very much fits the post-Christian, embrace-everything-and-don't-judge-others mentality. People either don't care about God, or they're liable to get offended at you when you start talking about Jesus. There's a strong anti-establishment, anti-institution strain up in this corner of the country, so God-talk can be tricky.

iow, it's the perfect place for Alpha, a program specifically designed to work in post-Christian, independent-minded cultures.

Over the last year or so I've been talking about Alpha with our Missions Chair and a couple others; a few months ago I took a group over to the Introduction Dinner for River Ridge Covenant's Alpha Course. I convinced the board to include the $500 in this year's budget to purchase the Beginner's Box. . .and last night we finally pulled some people together, people who will form the nucleus of Lakebay's Alpha Leadership Team. The plan is to host our first run-through this fall, probably starting in late September.

And, based on the energy in the room last night, I'm excited. Last month marked our three-year-anniversary at Lakebay, so in every sense we've moved past the 'Honeymoon,' we've left behind all that 'laying the groundwork' stuff, and are moving into the next phase of ministry. I believe Alpha could be the catalyst for great things to come in the days ahead. And, after almost a decade of waiting, I'm more than ready to stop thinking about Alpha, and begin actually doing it.

I know where we are now. I know where we need to be to enter into the future we believe God has laid out for us. Bridging those two things is the question. And I have this little suspicion that Alpha at Lakebay may just be one of the pillars in that bridge.

We have a long way to go, still, but last night marked a true, new, beginning for this aspect of God's work on the Key Peninsula. For that, I am thankful.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Life Out Here in the Boonies

A couple nights ago the dog was going crazy. Assuming he just had to go out and do his business, I opened the door and was about to let him out. . .when I heard a rumbling in the bushes below our embankment. Shut the door, went and found our night-vision scope, then headed back out to see what sort of creature was climbing our hill.

For five minutes I heard nothing but grunts and the rattle of branches, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but the gleaming eyes of a rather large raccoon staring back at me. Shortly he was followed by his partner. They both stared at me for 30 seconds, I assume to determine my threat level, but we both knew - these were their woods tonight. So they chose to get about their business of eating up last night's compost, while I stood still and enjoyed the sight of their foraging for 20 minutes or so. Eventually I got cold, and they seemed in no hurry to move on, so I gathered into the house for the night; they kept on with their late-night snack, paying my parting no heed.

Yesterday afternoon I had to make a quick trip out to the garage to find something, and as I ran across the drive, dodging raindrops along the way, I looked up toward where our driveway turns into the woods, and discovered three deer nibbling at the new growth of grass there. As with the raccoons, they paused and checked me out, but didn't seem all that concerned. They munched, I slowed to a walk, and the rain picked up. I was in the garage five minutes, but when I came out, they were still there. Went back to the house, they half-heartedly watching me go. Gathered a few things then ran back out to head up to worship practice. Still, they nibbled the tendrils of spring grass. Only when I was in the car, driving toward where they stood, did they decide it was time to move on, hopping over the blackberry bushes down into the gulch below the drive. Even then, they gave me a look as if to say I was intruding on their territory, and not the other way around.

With some forlorn sense, I looked over at my freshly-plowed garden, knowing it would be planted in the next few weeks, the vegetables would begin to grow, and these blasted, beautiful deer would be back to enjoy.

Did I mention the pileated woodpecker has been about his business in the ash tree outside our kitchen, too?

I love living way out here in the woods.