Month: December 2012

Segment from “Holy Longing” by Ron Rolheiser

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Rolheiser, Ron. Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. Doubleday, NY. 1999.

“What does God’s power look like? How does it feel to feel as God in this world?

If you have ever been overpowered physically and been helpless in that, if you have ever been hit or slapped by someone and been powerless to defend yourself or fight back, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever dreamed a dream and found that every effort you made was hopeless and that your dream could never be realized, if you have cried tears and felt shame at your own inadequacy, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever been shamed in your enthusiasm and not given a chance to explain yourself, if you have ever been cursed for your goodness by people who misunderstood you and were powerless to make them see things in your way, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever tried to make yourself attractive to someone and were incapable of it, if you have ever loved someone and wanted desperately to somehow make him or her notice you and found yourself hopelessly unable to do so, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever felt yourself aging and losing both the health and tautness of a young body and the opportunities that come with that and been powerless to turn back the clock, if you have ever felt the world slipping away from you as you grow older and ever more marginalized, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever felt like a minority of one before the group hysteria of a crowd gone mad, if you have ever felt, firsthand, the sick evil of gang rape, then you have felt how God feels in this world . . . and how Jesus felt on Good Friday.

God never overpowers. God’s power in this world is never the power of muscle, a speed, a physical attractiveness, a brilliance, or a grace which (as the contemporary expression has it) blows you away and makes you shout: “Yes! Yes! There is a God!” The world’s power tries to work that way. God’s power though is more muted, more helpless, more shamed, and more marginalized. But it lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and will, in the end, gently have the final say.

To work for justice and peace in this world is not to move from being Mother Teresa to being Rambo or Batman. The God who undergirds justice and peace beats up no one and His or Her cause is not furthered when we do.”

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Weekend In Arlington

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So I had opportunity to drive down to Arlington, TX this weekend. Got news that my Granny is in hospice care. She’s 91 years old and… well… how should I say it, still giving people hell after all these years! I say that tongue in cheek… mostly because if my Granny ever heard me (or read me) use the word “Hell” like that, she’d literally put soap in my mouth to “wash it out.”

I love my Granny. When I was a very small child, it was a treat to get to sleep in Granny’s room, because you got to be and feel very special for a magnificent moment in time. Granny would either read (with her very animated voice) “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” or she’d make up her own story, which often began with “a fat lady in a bird-bath.” Not sure why, but it always got a giggle out of me. That’s probably why.

Trips to her farm near Lingleville, TX were highlights of my youth. The two hour trip felt like an eternity until we finally hit the gravel road that ended with her small farmhouse. I still recall feeling lit up inside to be on that farm with granny. Remember the smell of her famous yeast rolls. The smell and sound of a roaring fire in her fireplace around Christmas time. The dim lamp light in her living room as we sat around the tree opening presents for what seemed like hours on Christmas Eve.

She would chase us around the house. Tickle us until we nearly peed ourselves. May have in some cases, I can’t remember for sure. Encourage an adventurous spirit within us. Arm us with a 410 shotgun and set us free to eliminate (if possible) the worlds rabbit, possum and armadillo populations. Specifically because they were always ruining her vegetable garden. She was rambunctious, full of spirit, and alive to God, people, and to the world. She survived an abusive alcoholic husband (who quite probably loved her best he could in that condition). She survived a divorce, a serious car accident, many years of living alone on a farm, and truly God knows what else. Tenacity, vibrancy, joy, humor, love. All words I would use to describe my Granny. Sometimes affectionately known as Granny Grunt.

Not too long ago, Granny was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A disease that effects the brain, and therefore, the personality. Granny really left us long ago. In the nursing home, she has been difficult for her family, and even for her nursing staff to help. But that’s not the Granny I remember, nor eulogize here.

Tonight, she lies fragile and weak in a nursing home bed in East Fort Worth. She is in the last of a series of nursing homes. The last one that would accept responsibility to care for her.

My Granny Grunt is moments, hours, could be a couple of days (no one really knows) from moving out of her earthly body and into the next place. In some ways, I envy her. Wish I was going.

What I wish and pray for her is that God has a sense of humor. That the first thing she’ll see is a “fat lady in a birdbath.” Maybe then she’ll think of me, return to her old self, and long for the day when I get to join her there.

I love you Granny. But you know that already.

Kill Joy #3 – Unbridled Restlessness

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Here I must say… I see very readily the kind of unbridled restlessness that pervades our world. If I were to speak of all three of these Kill Joys as false gods, or idols I would name them this way:

First, Narcissism – the god of “self”
Second, Pragmatism – the god of the empirical.
And third, unbridled restless – the god of experience.

Our flesh thirsts, hungers, longs for experience. And our culture provides an over-abundance of experiences on which we may gorge our appetites to the point of exhaustion. We have allowed ourselves to be put in an environment of constant over stimulation. All of our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are given so much stimuli that we become numb to the “ordinary” and special occasions of heightened senses cease to be special occasions.

The way we eat. For many of us, most of us, myself included, hunger is never a real threat. We have refined everything … every taste … from the bitter … to the sweet … to the sour … to the savory. It is all intensified and has even in its most concentrated forms, become mundane. Our addictions to caffeine have moved us from coffee, to soda, to No Doz pills, and now energy drinks that contain unnecessary amounts of caffeine. And it isn’t just caffiene. It’s sweeteners. It’s movies that once satisfied us in black and white, now color, now high definition, now three dimensions. What is next, one wonders? And when will today’s thrillers be tomorrow’s sleepers?

The result of all this “experience” is that we are left with an unbridled restlessness. We simply cannot get enough experience. We cannot see enough, hear enough, eat enough, smell enough or touch enough. So we eat more, listen more, feel more, touch more… and find the emptiness of our lives leaving us desperate for something we cannot even name.

I think Rolhieser has it right when he says that the answer to the restless soul is contemplation. In fact, for those who are at least nominally Christian and would follow after the discipline of Christ himself… contemplation is a must.

For us to remove from the “high places” our gods of self, empiricism and experience, we must shut them out and consider how our very lives as temples of the Holy Spirit are aligned with the heavenly tabernacle… the true temple in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God. That is, by definition, what contemplation is. . . an aligning of temples. The inward temple with the heavenly.

I encourage you to stop pursing self, to stop relying solely on what “works,” to cease from “experience” long enough to examine the Holy Place. To consider the heaven in which Christ sits with all authority over heaven and earth… and from that place acquire (or to inquire of God for) an alignment for the soul.

May we be a people who can contemplate (with temple). May we align our inward Spiritual House for God with the place in which he resides heavenly. May the spirit within us cry out along with the seraphs and the cherubim…. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and who is, and who is to come!”

Guest Post by Bill Wise… The Plate Spinner

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The Plate Spinner

If you have ever been to the circus or seen one on TV then you will be familiar with the guy I will call the Plate Spinner.  He is the guy who has all these plates balanced precariously on the tips of slightly flexible vertical rods.  He has to keep them all spinning, or else they will fall to the ground with a crash.   We watch with anxiousness to see if he can keep them all spinning while continuously adding more plates to the mix.  Well in life we are like the plate spinner. 

As we grow the Ring Master gives us just a few plates to handle, we learn to spin the School plate and the Friendship plate while figuring out our place amongst our peers.  How do we balance being cool and accepted and still enjoy some of the nerdy things we like, and if the secret was out of the bag it might outcast us from the Group.  We learn to spin our personalities and interest to please others, our parents, and ourselves.  We quickly learn we can’t please everyone and though spinning the plates as best we can, inevitably a plate will fall to the ground with a crash.  Maybe we get dumped by our so-called friends or disappoint our parents with our unruly behavior, or don’t make the grades they think we should make.   The Ring Master of course is there to assist us and encourage us; plates will fall and break, but we are young and learning and we just grab a new plate from Ring Masters store box he calls Grace and keep on going.

Well eventually we break through into the teenage years and other plates are added to those we are already spinning.  Oh the joys and heartbreak of the Romance plate, how long can we keep that one spinning before it eventually falls, or maybe we decide to quit spinning it and let that particular plate fall to the ground.  Some of us will try to see how many Romance plates we can collect and spin at once, Watch Out!.  Don’t let the other Romance plates know you’re spinning more than one, lest they all decide to jump ship and fall at once and your left looking like a fool.  We will eventually learn that one Romance plate is all we can really handle, hey that’s the way the Ring Master planned it from the beginning.

In our teens we start to learn to handle the Work plate, it’s a tough one and some of us will relish it, keeping it spinning straight and true, and others will apply only enough force to barely keep it spinning, and it is wobbling most the time.   We have started to set the pattern for our adult lives, but it is never too late to learn to be a more diligent spinner, and being diligent in the Work plate, helps keep other plates later in life spinning more easily, like the Food, and Housing plates.

We enter into the adult world and have settled our plates to a nice even balanced spin, we have even settled on a single Romance plate which eventually partners with us to keep the other plates spinning.  We have become One with that plate.  Those can be great years with another Plate Spinner by your side to share the load with.  Ahh but then we add more plates to the mix, the Child plate.  Each plate is precious and beautifully crafted by the Ring Master as he gives you the responsibility of keeping it spinning.  You stand back at times just watching the plates spin in all their glory, just the way they were designed to; some with an artistic flair, or maybe a steady articulate resolve, and others with a competitive streak trying to spin faster than the other plates.  Sometimes the plates will be contrary and no matter how good your spinning technique, there will be times when the plates, having a mind of their own, will just fly off the rod. You leave the other plates behind to reach out and grab and save it before it crashes to the ground.  The Child plate has not yet learned the value of succumbing to you, the Plate Spinner, and thinks it can spin itself and wants so bad to be independent of the rod.  The Child plates are your favorite of all the plates, watching them play and spin, and join with other plates in conversation and games warms your heart like no others.  The Home and Car plates require lots of attention mind you but they are just plates which are necessities, and really pale in comparison to the Child plates. 

As the Plate Spinner you so badly want to present to the Ring Master at the end of your show, Child plates which have matured and performed per their design, and still have the beautiful sheen they had in the beginning.  You would forgo all other plates to make sure these plates spin true.  They are your prized possession, though they hold even more value to the Ring Master, who loves with a greater love than you can imagine. 

It is a tremendous challenge being a Plate Spinner.  You learn a refined technique through those times when all the plates seem to start wobbling at the same time, and maybe even losing a couple of them to the crash and shattering of the hard cruel ground.  As the Plate Spinner you will learn to lean on the Ring Master when you can’t always keep the plates spinning on your own.  He will be there to steady your hand, and applaud you along with the rest of the circus audience when you’re doing a great job!

Alas your time of performing in the circus will eventually come to an end, your time to bid a fond farewell to all the plates you have come to spin and love over the years, as well as the other Plate Spinners you have come to know and cherish over the years.  Their have been so many memories, triumphs and victories, along with mistakes and pitfalls.  You love your plates.  But then up walks the Ring Master and welcomes you into the audience of other circus performers whom have gone before you.  It is time to let other Plate Spinners have their chance, as he tells you “well done my good and faithful Spinner, join me in my Tent of Gold, with mast of pearl and ivory, and seats of ruby and emerald”.  You bow and walk joyfully away with Him treasuring all the time you have had performing in His Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth!

Happy Spinning !

Kill Joy #2 – Pragmatism. (From Rolheiser’s book Shattered Lantern)

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It’s not much of an overstatement to say that Americans worship the God of “pragmatism.” If it works, do it. Rolheiser believes, and I think accurately, that our drive for effectiveness and efficiency is pulling joy out of our lives. Here’s my take.

I have been a first hand victim of pragmatism. I’ve seen it at play in my life both from a financial standpoint, but more importantly relationally. I think that is where it effects us most. It’s difficult to live in a relational world. That is, I think, intentional on God’s part. I think he means for life to be difficult but certainly not impossible when it comes to relationships. It is through the very struggle of relating to others that we grow stronger as human beings, and ultimately as spiritual beings.

If pragmatism is god… and relationships are where pragmatism is most practiced… then I think the use of anger is one of the most exalted altars on which we make our heathen sacrifices. Think of the ways people use anger to get things done… and we do it because, quite frankly, it works.

Violence, passive aggression, manipulation. All pragmatic expressions. Getting what we want through emotional manipulation.

The result is that we miss out on the joy of being who God intended us to be at peace. We also miss out on the joy of letting others be who God made them to be. I have to admit, between narcissism, this one (pragmatism) and what I’ll address in the third post (unbridled restlessness), I think pragmatism has me hammered more than the others.

What about you? How have you seen pragmatism at work in your world? What would life be like if we let God be God instead of “what works”?

Morning Prayer – Sunday, December 23, 2012

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Our Father

The one in heaven. Your name is holy and above all other names. I pray Lord for your kingdom to come within me and around me … that I would respond to you just as the angels in heaven do. I think you Lord for my physical provisions for today… food, clothing, shelter. Thank you. As I think of my state, I also ask for forgiveness and also for the grace to forgive others. And finally, Lord, I pray that you would lead me in such a way that I am rescued. Lead me away from the things that tempt me and away from the devil himself.

I thank you most Holy Spirit for the comfort you provide. May I be a sharer today of that very comfort. I pray Father, for the strength you provide. May I be a good steward of that strength. I pray Jesus, for the grace that comes through the sacrifice of your body. I pray that I be that body today.

Holy Trinity, I pray today that as we convene for the sake of your worship that we would be fully prepared to lead people into your presence. I apologize for our shortcomings, our lack of reverence or awe as we stand in your presence today. But as always, God, I pray that you would pardon your servants who are not clean according to the rules of your heavenly sanctuary. May all those today whose hearts seek you find you by your grace.

Amen.

Let the Pastor Grow: An Argument for Multiple Staff Ministries

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My first pastorate was at a small church in Oklahoma. Morris, Oklahoma to be exact. Morris isn’t on the way to anything. If you end up in Morris, it’s because that’s where your grandmother lives or some other relative that for whatever reason likes to live in a place that’s on the way to nowhere. It’s a great little town of about 1400 people (if I remember correctly). In Morris, I worked alone. And boy did I. I worked alone because that’s what I knew. While I was there… it never occurred to me to build a base of volunteer staff that could help accomplish more than what I could do alone.

I visited the sick alone. I preached alone. I did the bulletin alone. I sat in my office…. alone.

Then the opportunity came for me to go work at the Carbondale Church of Christ. I was there for about 7 years. To date, the longest stint I had working anywhere. When I first started, my eyes were opened the joy of working with an administrative assistant! Paul was absolutely fantastic. The problem was, I had no idea how to help her help me. In fact, even if I had, I would have quickly learned that Paula was the “church” secretary and not my administrative assistant. While there, I had two short term associate ministers to work with. Both were positive experiences for the most part. But still, I had no idea how to help them help me or to help them help the church.

Then off to Illinois I went. Once again, the only paid staff at a church of about 160 near Peoria. It was there that I think I began to settle into a depression of loneliness. Roy Campbell was fantastic at what he did in terms of church administration, but he wasn’t on staff for ministry. He wasn’t my helper. And I didn’t use his company to my advantage (or his really). In a self-imposed isolation I began to flounder. I was only there for two years. I needed people. I needed help. I needed to grow as a pastor.

Five years ago, I moved to Hutchinson Kansas where I know pastor Crossroads Christian Church: A Place to Start Life Over. Here I was blessed with an opportunity to work with an administrative assistant (who actually is here to help us!) as well as three other full-time ministerial staff. I was not only enamored with the idea of working with multiple staff… I was desparate to get out of a rut of loneliness and isolation in my working environment.

One thing I have learned over the years… and through all these experiences. That is… every pastor needs a partner. . . or even multiple partners. Were I ever to return to working in a small church environment. Which I suspect I will do someday. It will be my goal to surround myself with volunteers who can help me and whom I can help to help themselves and the ministries of the church. Here at Crossroads, we have developed a volunteer staff that has increased our effectiveness exponentially! Not only are they helping us in ministry, but the program has become a great outlet to help each of them to grow spiritually as well (at least I think they would agree!)

So… if you are working in a small church environment and are the proverbial “Lone Ranger.” Can I encourage you to find a volunteer staff that can come alongside and help you in your ministry. Use that opportunity to mentor. In doing so, you will grow as a pastor and will help the church to grow as well.

If you build a volunteer ministry staff program, I would encourage you to make sure that they are empowered to to do the job you have given them to do. Give them a desk or an office if you can. Give them status on the bulletin, on the web-site and through other communication avenues. Make sure they know and the church knows that their work is valued and they have full “staff” status (for whatever that’s worth!)

Through this you’ll find that you also are less lonely, less isolated, less frustrated and free to move into areas of ministry that would never be possible for a “Lone Ranger.”

That’s all for now. See you later.