Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From Weakness, Great Strength

And sometimes, I think my life feels difficult. I have no clue.....

Monday, January 29, 2007

Leaving a Legacy

As I approach the mid-century mark in age (cut me open and count the rings), I am rediscovering (refiguring?) a sense of call for my life. By call, I mean my perception of what it is that God wants me to do with the rest of my days here on this planet.

I got the essence of the thoughts below from my friend Al Lunsford's project,
Inside Work. As a result of reading this great blog, I have discovered something new.

I want to develop, in my family and myself, a sense of “third generation vision.” Third generation vision is easily described in child-rearing terms. My wife and I are attempting to raise two wonderful girls, Kelly and Heather, If we simply had “first generation vision” as parents, we would be satisfied if our children did as they were told, minded their manners, spoke when spoken to, didn’t do anything to embarrass us and covered up any obvious hygiene problems. First generation vision is parenting for my personal convenience and near term objectives.

Unfortunately, this was largely the perspective of my parents. This was mostly the credo of their generation, not necessarily their fault. As a result, I have spent much of the last 25 years relearning what being a man, a husband, and a parent means. If I am thinking only in a "first generation" context, as long kids do as they are told and don’t create problems, everything is fine. Until, one day, everything isn’t fine.

Parents with “second generation vision” see their responsibilities differently. They want to raise their children in such a way that the kids become good citizens, good spouses, good parents, good neighbors, good leaders and contributors to society. Any time you see such a parent, commend them. The same goes for leaders of every sort.

Then, there are parents who strive for a greater perspective: "third generation vision.” As I think about my own girls, I’m learning to stop and ask, "How do I raise them in such a way that my grandchildren will be great citizens, husbands, wives, parents, neighbors, leaders and contributors?"

Now, faced with a parental leadership issue, I try (read: try) back up and consider how I can leverage the situation to build the wisdom, character, and ability of my kids so that their kids will make a difference.

Its about leaving a legacy. But not a legacy with my name on it, like some kind of museum or monument. A living legacy about love, and humor, and caring, and making the world a better place, for generations, not just in my lifetime.

Here is my worst nightmare: Somerset Maugham, in his novel Of Human Bondage, described an aging couple saying, “They had done nothing, and when they went it would be just as if they had never been.” And so, I am acting in fear of this result, the last thing I want is this epitaph for my life. Call me a chicken, but this is the kind of chicken I want to be.

I think my second half, as long as I have left to go, is going to be a challenge, sometimes maddening, but a blast!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Failure is Painful

Tonight, after a busy week of real life and hardly any blogging, comes more from the mind of Steve Hayner on the Missional church. Remember those old videos of the early days of flight. What a pathetic bunch of early flying machines were put together by those early pioneers.

Here are some thoughts about the way in which many of us "church folk" do things. We don't do it very well:

• So what do you do when a church that focuses on its “gatherings” begins to lose steam, and it isn’t attracting so many people anymore? You try to make the gatherings more attractive. You do a better job of marketing. You look out into the culture and find out what IS attracting people, and you adapt to that style.

• What do you do when you seem to be losing the “culture wars”? You revise your theology and make it more “acceptable” to the world. You plan more strategies. You spend more money. You figure out how to leverage whatever political power you can muster. You fill up more thermos jugs of grace to deliver to the world.

• What do you do when the church’s organization becomes cumbersome, or doesn’t seem to be effective anymore? You reorganize. You write a new mission statement. You form a strategic planning committee—and a whole series of other committees.

• What do you do when the hierarchy doesn’t seem to be leading very well anymore, and those willing to lead don’t seem to be as committed or talented? You expand the number of people in the bureaucracy; you complain that seminaries aren’t doing their job; and you write new curriculum for training the leadership.

All of these steps may be improvements. But it’s like trying to improve the rotary dial phone. In the end it’s still a rotary dial phone. The bottom line is this: This way of thinking about how to "do church better” hasn’t worked. The Church in the West is dying. Europe is now “post-Christian” and arguably the continent most closed to the Gospel. The Church in the U.S. has not grown (in percentage) in over 100 years. And many denominations (including our own) are falling precipitously. Of the 25 largest denominations in the U.S., the PC(USA) is now shrinking the fastest—both in absolute numbers and percentage.

Ouch! Sound familiar?

Thank you, Steve Hayner. Now, my questions are this: How do we do church better? How do we face the future recognizing at the same time our brokenness, as well as the gifts we can bring? How do we communicate the greatest mystery and most profound even in all of history?

What is next?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not Sure...

I am not sure who I identify with more here....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Reverend KC Wahe Installed

Jumbo sized. Super size me.

Mega. Ultra. Massive. These are the sacred words of our culture.

And sadly, they seem to have become the sacred words of American Evangelicalism. Can you say Willow Creek, Saddleback, Claude Osteen, Focus on the Family?

There is something about being American. We seem to think that bigger, is well, better. Size matters. And sometimes, being bigger can be better.

But in the Kingdom economy, much of the time, smaller is very good, and maybe, even better. More simple, more meaningful. More quiet. Stripped of the noise and clamor.

This past Sunday night, I had the privilege of being a part of the installation service of Rev.
KC Wahe at Community Presbyterian Church in, Littlerock, California. Littlerock has a population of about 9,000 souls, located in the desert foothills of the Antelope Valley, north of Los Angeles. It might be the place you drive through, instead of stopping in. I suspect there are more cacti in Littlerock than there are people. But that is ok. And it is ok for Pastor KC, as well.

KC is a remarkable man, and he now leads a remarkable church. The sanctuary holds all of about 75 folks, and it was full to the brim for KC's installation service. Small crowd, but good, and full of character, hope, joy, and thanksgiving. I hope these dear people know of the gift that God has given them in a faithful man, whose life is, for me, one of the best examples of the redemptive power of Christ I have ever known.

KC was a kid from the streets of Hollywood, who showed up in the youth group of our church almost 20 years ago. KC came from a highly dysfunctional family, and he has since lost several family members over the years to drug and alcohol dependency. Some faithful folks of our church took KC under their wings, and loved him. They did not give up easily; they kept on loving him through many years and many challenges and changes. KC found a spiritual home, and a beacon of Light in an otherwise dark life. He found Hope.

To make a long and wonderful story short, KC eventually attended Princeton Seminary, and Sunday became the pastor of this little church in the High Desert. Little in size they may be, but from my viewpoint, they are great in heart. And they have a great pastor to lead them.

Blessings to you Community Presbyterian Church, and blessings on you, Pastor KC.

Bigger is not always better.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tony Silvestri, Starting Over, and Sleep

About 18 months ago, we lost a dear friend who was only 36. Her name was Julie, and I have written about her here, and here.

She was in the college fellowship I helped to lead more that 17 years ago. There are few people that I will remember in my life as truly beautiful, in all the depth that word conveys. Julie was one of those few; she was beautiful from deep within her soul. In joy, in love for others, in a caring heart, and in her mind, which loved the classics and things of lasting worth.

We received a belated Christmas letter just yesterday from Tony, Julie's husband. I was reminded again that Julie married an amazing man. After Julie's death, Tony relocated his family (pictured at left) to Lawrence, Kansas, to be closer to his extended family.

Tony is taking time off, to write, to paint, and just to be. He is deeply involved in the lives of his children, and is enjoying the simple beauty of the Midwest. I envy the simple things in life that Tony enjoys. Small mercies for a man who has been through more in his 40 years than most. Far more.

And Tony is creating new things. Tony has long been a poet, and now, his gift is being shared on a much larger stage than he even thought possible. Tony has had a poem commissioned by composer Eric Whitacre. This work has become a standard part of the choral repertoire garnering performances and praise all over the world. The National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces Program includes this piece in its list of required repertoire for program concerts, calling it a significant work of American choral music, and among the best of [Americas] cultural and artistic legacy. It appears on the recording Eric Whitacre:

Sleep - By Anthony Silvestri (copyrighted)

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head,
I cannot sleep, my minds aflight,
And yet my limbs seem made of lead
If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light...

Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight
What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.
Out of great, almost unmeasurable pain, emerges new hope. Poetry, art, new life.

I wish for my friend Tony, as he and his family start life anew....many nights of deep, restful, God graced....sleep.

And as a postscript, these lyrics grace the Virtual Choir 3 video:

My Daughter Made Me Do This!

When you Google the term "nerd", you get this photo.

My daughter thought that my score, below, was funny....

I am nerdier than 31% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

To Barack or Not To Barack, That is the Question

I will admit, I have been interested in all the heat and light that seems to have developed around Barack Obama during the past several months. I want to believe there is a "new way of doing politics" as I have heard him say.

Recently, Peggy Noonan wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal that summed it all up. My favorite bits:

What does he believe? What does he stand for? This is, after all, the central question. When it is pointed out that he has had almost--almost--two years in the U.S. Senate, and before that was an obscure state legislator in Illinois, his supporters compare him to Lincoln. But Lincoln had become a national voice on the great issue of the day, slavery. He rose with a reason. Sen. Obama's rise is not about a stand or an issue or a question; it is about Sen. Obama. People project their hopes on him, he says. He's exactly right. Just so we all know it's projection.


He doesn't have an issue, he has a thousand issues, which is the same as having none, in the sense that a speech about everything is a speech about nothing. And on those issues he seems not so much to be guided by philosophy as by impulses, sentiments. From "The Audacity of Hope," his latest book: "[O]ur democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect." "I value good manners." When not attempting to elevate the bromidic to the profound, he lapses into the language of political consultants--"our message," "wedge issues," "moral language." Ronald Reagan had "a durable narrative." Parts of the book, the best parts, are warm, anecdotal, human. But much of it pretends to a seriousness that is not borne out. When speaking of the political past he presents false balance and faux fairness. (Reagan, again, despite his "John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote and his gratuitous assaults on the poor" had an "appeal" Sen. Obama "understood." Ronnie would be so pleased.)


But again, what does he believe? From reading his book, I would say he believes in his destiny. He believes in his charisma. He has the confidence of the anointed. He has faith in the magic of the man who meets his moment. He also believes in the power of good nature, the need for compromise, and the possibility of comprehensive, multitiered, sensible solutions achieved through good-faith negotiations. But mostly it seems to be about him, his sense of destiny, and his appreciation of his own particular gifts. Which leaves me thinking Oh dear, we have been here before. It's not as if we haven't already had a few of the destiny boys. It's not as if we don't have a few more in the wings.

I need to listen more to what Obama has to say, as well as the rest of the cast of presidential candidates. I just hope there is some substance there, somewhere. And I might want to think twice about voting for The Man from Nowhere. Barack Obama may indeed be a great leader, but maybe that greatness will emerge over time, say the next decade, rather than by a rush of popularity over the next 12 months, like the Most Popular Kid on Campus. In these trying times, we need real leadership, the kind that comes from experience, rather than flash.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Album and a Movie

Can we get this clear? I am not typically an impulse buyer. But recently, I strayed from the straight and narrow, and picked up this amazing album while standing in line at Starbucks. What a brilliant impulse buyer I am.

This album spans nearly 30 years, and is the result of the recovery of some old Ray Charles concert tapes from the 70s, combined with the very recent fill-in recordings of the legacy
Count Basie Orchestra. In my mind, this is a wonderful mixture of two remarkable styles. Ray always loved the music of Basie, and this pathetically white guy has always loved everything Ray.

Off to the Movies - Freedom Writers

This weekend we saw a movie that should be required viewing for anyone with kids in school, anyone who teaches or has ever taught, and for that matter, anyone who ever went to school.

Hilary Swank is remarkable, and is joined by a striking cast of young actors. This film has two major themes; the first is the stereotyping and class wars of the inner city.

In perhaps the most powerful moments of the film, the students of Erin Gruwell's class visit the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles - one of their first visits outside of the neighborhood where they grew up. There, they meet actual Holocaust survivors who relate the stories of their narrow escape from the death camps. I have visited Dachau, and brief scenes were shown of the death camps, which brought me right back to the sights and sounds of my visit 20 years ago. The filmmakers had the wisdom of using real camp survivors in the film; my wife Nancy recognized her recent museum guide in the movie. Very moving.

The second important subplot of this film is the ongoing battle of creative entrepreneurial teachers versus an entrenched public education bureaucracy. I found myself feeling angry, almost enraged at the educational system that actually fought against the dreams, initiative, and spirit of an obviously talented teacher. As a result of this system, Erin Gruwell is no longer teaching, and I do not blame her. I do not harbor the idealism that the movie seems to embrace.

Ms. Gruwell has outgrown the narrow, structured world of public education, forming the Freedom Writer's Foundation, which now is capable of inspiring teacher and students as far and wide and Ms. Gruwell's dream can take her. The loosers in this movie are not the students, who have been blessed by a remarkable teacher, but rather the members of the educational establishment, who perpetuate a broken system that stunts the creativity of gifted teachers.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Amazing Jesus

The Evolution of the Clubhouse

This post is a continuation of these thoughts, and is based on this outstanding paper.
What we have now, in the current church, often has all the elements of a clubhouse. As noted by Steve Hayner, the church as become something similar to this treehouse, a fun place to hang out.

• God’s people began to behave as if God’s primary activity had moved indoors. The church as a building became the place where certain things happened: where the Gospel was rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and sometimes discipline exercised. Instead of moving into the culture, the church compelled people to come in. And the church became a kind of clubhouse. E.g. Instead of baptism being our ordination to the mission of the church, it became our initiation to the club—and “evangelism committees” became membership management groups.

• The clubhouse—the church—thought of itself as the repository of God’s grace. And because we had God’s grace, and others didn’t, the church’s mission was either to give it away—or be at war with the hostile culture. “Missions” came to be thought of as programs which somehow took the grace of God and the message of the Church into the enemy territory. The “us and them” view took over. A great chasm began to grow between the “sacred” and the “secular”.

• Understandably the Church also became more and more institutional and program focused. Organization and strategy took center stage.

• And leadership became professional and hierarchical. No longer was leadership as much about gifts and roles designed to equip people to be a part of God’s work, as much as it was about building the institution, governing the organization, and caring for those who gathered.

All this wasn’t so bad, as long as the church was pretty much in the center of things in the culture. Sure, at different points throughout the next 1600 years, changes needed to be made. Sometimes the church got off track theologically. Sometimes the institution, controlled by sinful people, became corrupt and needed to be reformed. But mostly things worked OK.
Until now.....and we have LOTS of work to do.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

All These People, This Cross of Oil

This was not an ordinary ordinary Sunday.

For a number of years, it has been a tradition in our church on the first Sunday of the new year, to offer, as a part of the worship service, a time of anointing with oil.

Please do not be scared. This is not hocus pocus, or Benny Hinn strangeness. No people falling down. Just the chance to have the cross marked on your forehead in oil, and for a fellow sinner to pray with and for you - for guidance, or help, or wisdom, or need, as we face the new year. Together. And then, to head forth, into the city, into the world.

Today, I had the privilege of being one who makes that cross with oil and to stand beside, and to pray. I am so ill equipped for this, my feet are of such clay. This is an sacred honor and a privilege. As the oil is administered, we say, "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen."

And oh, the people who came.

The prestigious seminary graduate, who lost a dream of a lifetime vocation in a specific ministry - and who is now seeing light at the end of a dark tunnel of wondering about the future.

The introverted young office worker, who really wants to become more of an extrovert in this new year. To really love all the people around him, each day, in a new and real way, with God's help.

The ex-convict, who is just now piecing his life together, after years of bad choices and terrible circumstances. He would like to start over, to make a new life, and he wants to figure out how he can serve God in the midst of all this.

The teenager who has been through two brain cancer surgeries, and stood today before me as a reminder of many things; healing, the fragile nature of our time on this planet, of tenacity, of hope, and of God's creation and care for each of us.

The couple who are sensing a complete change in their young married life, from the safety of stable professional jobs, toward the fear of change associated with new careers in film writing - together. They want to understand what this means, and how God is calling them.

And for my daughter, who asked for prayer for understanding for choosing a new school when she reaches high school age.

What a remarkable collection of our little corner of the Kingdom.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wrinkled Missionaries, New Ways of Thinking

Lets face it. The old way of doing things is shot. Even the way in which we did things 10 years ago is full of holes. There are a few institutions, such as marriage, the sacraments, and the infield fly rule that still work well. But in large part, the old way of doing things, most particularly in the church, is over and done with.

So, what ARE we gonna do? Well, if we are Presbyterians, we form a Committee to study it, with a name like the Committee to Study It, or the Vision Committee, of the Next Century Working Group. Whatever.

Maybe as a part of our spiffy committee formations, we need to take a look back, and a look around at the rest of the world.

By the way, none of these thoughts are original, they are part of the Missional Church Movement, of which Presbyterian Global Fellowship is a part. God might just be doing something new. I have plagiarized large parts of this from here; the mind of Dr. Steven Hayner (friends of mine are friends of his). I have no shame.

The Early Church

In the first centuries the Holy Spirit pushed Jesus’ followers out of their comfort zones and into the Greek and Roman worlds—and beyond. About the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr declared: "There is not one single race of men whether barbarians, or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads, or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered through the name of the crucified Jesus." [Dial. cum Tryph., cxvii.] Within 3 centuries, new outposts of witness had been planted in all corners of the world—and in the west, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.

God continued to work—and has done so to this day—calling, wooing, healing, freeing, forgiving, and engaging more people in the adventure of participating with God’s Great Plan.

But in the 4th century something began to happen to the church. As it became more and more accepted in the culture, and as there were more and more Christians, the Church began to be less of a movement and more of an institution (sound familiar?).

Even the use of the word “Church” began to change. Instead of referring to God’s people, “church” began to refer to a building—or a particular program activity. “We’re going to church.”

I have spent most of my adult life going to church. Well, at 48 years old, I am getting tired of going to church, I think I might like to be the church now.

More soon.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Poopie Doodie For Christians

Our family has a really funny, cute, and lively little nephew named Tim. Tim is about four years old now, but when he was a really little guy, around two years old, he used to have an expression that has now become common vernacular around our house...

"Poopie Doodie"

Tim used to say this just about all the time. It was used interchangeably as an expression of fun, frustration, and mostly to get his cousins to laugh. Tim is a showman, just like his Dad. We now use this expression in our house to replace other, less acceptable forms of verbal frustration.

Well people, we have Poopie Doodie Problems in the church, but perhaps we don't realize it. Wait, I am SURE we don't realize it. If we did, we would stop this behavior.

Thanks to Michael Spencer, over at
Internet Monk, I have found evidence of something that makes me nearly wretch. The selling of Christian......stuff, and lots of it.

James Watkins, of the Charlotte Observer has a column you really need to read, called the
"Christian Industrial Complex". As it turns out, the Christian retail industry topped $4.5 billion in gross sales last year. Now, if my math is correct, if you took $30 per month, and used it to support a child in the third world, you could support 250,000 children for the next 50 years! Or alternately, you could support 1,000,000 children for the next 12.5 years - to the point at which they might hopefully be self sufficient. Now that might really make a difference in our weary world.

Either way, something is sick in our culture. Maybe this is why folks find the church irrelevant so often. We are so caught up by the latest trends; The Purpose Driven This, and the Prayer of Jabez That, The Wild At Heart This, and the Your Best Life Now That.

We aren't any different than much of the rest of the modern culture, behaving like lemmings, we Christian folk. We follow the latest popular fad, rather than focusing on important things, the mystery of the Word made flesh, and how our faith can be more transformational, the ways that Christ can transform our faith, and help us to really, really love other people well.

Or maybe not. You decide.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Five Weird Things

I have been asked by my old (well not that old) friend Julie to post five wierd things about myself. What better way to start the new year?

As there are approximately 12 readers of this blog, this should prove to be earthshattering news that will affect the Internet to an extent greater than its original invention, by Al Gore of course. And so without further ado, five weird things about Steve, as reported by members of my family (as I can find nothing weird about myself).
  1. 1. My music tastes are those of an 80 year old and/or I enjoy certain Hawaiian music. This has been the case ever since our family vacation to Kauai in the summer of 2005. Get ready, they will be playing Hawaiian music in Heaven.

  2. I find pleasure and calm in watching the Kreepy Crawly pool sweep move around the bottom of our pool. I have no idea why, but this is true. I find it soothing. Sue me.

  3. My belly button is an "outie"; which places me in a rare class (4% of the population). I have had it fixed twice via surgery (not just for THAT!) to no avail. Still an outie; such is my fate in life. Enough information.

  4. I don't like tight clothes. Never have, never will. A guy needs room to relax.

  5. I shoot squirrels in my back yard trees with a beebie gun just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. They eat these little pod things in the tree over my pool, thus making more work for the Kreepy Crawly thing.....wait a minute.
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