Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Another Meeting

Meetings, you gotta love 'em. Well, you don't have to love them but if you are a person who has to go to lots of them, if you don't try to see the bright side of meetings, you are going to be pretty miserable most of the time. I am a pastor and my life is full of meetings. You can curse them, try to make the best of them or discover your ministry in them! That's right. Ministry and meetings, believe it or not, they do have a relationship.

Most people hate meetings, church meetings, I mean. They find them boring and make up excuses not to attend. Our church has business meetings four times a year and sometimes we can't even come up with a quorum. Sad, but true. My vision for the ministry of meetings has been helped by MaryKate Morse, a professor of leadership and spiritual formation at George Fox Seminary. In her book, Making Room for Leadership, she has a chapter on how we "take up space". She writes that people generally like to have about 12 feet of personal space. She calls this public space. In church, worship is a public space experience. Even though we might be sitting closer than 12 feet to someone else (but not closer than 2 to 4 feet normally) we are essentially having an individual experience (with God hopefully!). We are not there to interact. The person or persons up front are largely unknown to us unless we have other "space" experiences with them. We may be inspired by a song or sermon but "the long range cementing of that change depends on more intimate and consistant interactions."

Morse's second space category she calls "social space". This is a setting where people maintain a distance of 4 to 12 feet between each other. This is small group space. Meeting space. At this distance you can see someones expressions, have a normal conversation with them but you are not touching. You are close enough to read someone's body language. Social space is for interaction. You can get to know someone. Morse says Christians tend to believe that God does his best work in public spaces, big public events like worship services, and other special music or speaking events. Big crowds mean God is doing something big. On the other hand, God wouldn't waste his time showing up at a meeting (so why should I waste my time showing up?). Morse says, " it is in the social space where God often moves in the hearts of those meeting together. It is in the social space where the potential for deep change can occur because everyone's true character is observed and engaged." Generally speaking, she says, the fewer the number the greater the chance each person will take responsibility for the value and mission of the group. So, for instance, instead of feeling bad "so few showed up" we should be excited about what God is going to do in the few who did show up! They are the ones who are committed to being part of God's mission in this place, at this time. Morse says smaller groups have higher productivity and offer the potential for greater satisfaction.

Then, she says, public space allows you to see and hear a leader but rarely get to know him or her. In social space, the meeting room, how the group gets along is more important than how they get along in public space. How a leader interacts in social space is a more significant indication of integrity than what he or she does or says from a pulpit or platform.

If you really want to know what a church is like, go to the meetings. If you really want to see what God is doing in a church, go to the meetings. If you really want to see the leadership in action, go to the meetings. As leaders we need to put as much or more preparation into meetings as we do big public services. Social space has a much greater impact on people than public space does. Let's have a meeting!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The New Yankee Stadium

Yankee stadium officially opened today. The New New York Yankees stadium. Yogi threw out the first pitch and stated his approval of the new stadium. His only criticism was that the clubhouse was too big so you had to walk too far if you wanted to talk to someone. It does come with plenty of big TVs and personal computers and state of the art exercise equipment, of course. The worst seats in the house were going for two hundred dollars today- that's for one game not the three game series with the Indians. I guess it was a sell out and those were scalped seats cus the Yankee website says the nose bleed section is only $30 a seat. Bleacher seats are only $14. However, the good seats, not the great seats, but just the decent seats are priced from $150 to $375. The great seats, the premium level seats go from $500 to if you have to ask you probably can't afford it. These include personal restrooms (although the new stadium has more restrooms than the old one), personal waiters serving fine dining options, cushioned seats with teak arms and in some cases a private entrance and preferred parking. Whatever happened to going out to the old ballgame? Sitting in the sun, eating a hot dog? Peanuts you can crack and let the shells drop on the concrete? What has happened to baseball when only the execs getting bailout bucks can afford a ticket?

I went to Yankee stadium once although I was a fanatic fan as a kid. My parents were not sports fans and thought it was nuts to drive into New York City (we lived upstate which is a different universe from NYC). My dad had to drive in there for business sometimes and he could not believe people actually drove in there when they didn't have to. Plus, there was no money for sports tickets even at the prices in the old days. So, I had to wait until I could take my own kids to a ballgame before I ever went to a big league park. I never took them to Yankee stadium though. I guess some of my dads prejudices about city driving rubbed off on me. Anyway, one year our son, Matt, played in his school band and they were asked to play at Yankee Stadium for pre-game ceremonies. I immediately volunteered to chaperon and then convinced the stadium security that I was a necessary part of the band entourage. That's how I fulfilled a lifelong fantasy and walked from right field to center field in Yankee stadium, retracing the steps of my childhood hero, Mickey Mantle as he tracked down a flyball.

My dream as a kid was to play at Yankee Stadium. It didn't take too long to figure out that that dream was not going to come true: I couldn't hit a curve, and flinched on hard grounders and my sidearm fastball didn't fool many hitters. With prices in the new Yankee stadium, I can only dream of ever seeing a game there, too.

Small and Local

It's clear that this economic downturn/recession whatever you call it is having some good results. Not all the results are good, of course, losing your job or not being able to get credit for your small business are not good things but don't rule out the possibility that something good could come out of it. It often does. Losing your job may send you back to school. Some couples are finding they can live on one paycheck while the other goes back to school. It means cutting back but even then some people are finding that is a good thing.

Yesterday was tax day. Thousands of people across the county showed up at protests over the way the government has been throwing untold trillions at the economic crisis. Someday someone will have to pay for all this. And it seems like most of the money is going to companies and financial institutions that got us into this mess in the first place. Why do we want to go back to the way things were when the way things were got us to the way things are? And we have the government guaranteeing everything including your car's warranty. Not the way we want to go.

Some people are finding their local communities are the way to go. The Wall Street Journal reported that 90 cents of every dollar spent at a local business stays in the community while only 50 cents of each dollar spent at a chain store does. We have seen how big banks are only after profit and don't care about the local community (funny commercial for Sterling Bank running on FSN which shows a guy on his deck talking on the phone to his new bank who took over his accounts and he has to explain where Washington is.... no Washington state he says.... yes, you know near Oregon, Idaho, Pacific Ocean...). My sister and her husband own a small hardware store in upstate New York. They have watched their business decline after Home Depot and Super Walmart moved in. It's a common story. But they support their downtown. They coach the local kids. They sponsor the kid's teams. They run the local farmers market. What they make stays local. Because they are local. What if the government chose to throw its weight behind small and local instead of big and national (international -how much of the AIG money didn't even stay in this country?)?

In Kodiak we have some sense of how small and local works. That is mostly what we have here. People in the lower 48 have just discovered "staycations". Living on an island which is expensive to get off of, we knew what those were before we had a word for them. Our entertainment choices are not unlimited like some places in the lower 48. There is just not a lot to do here, like say Portland or Seattle. But we have found there is plenty to do. We tend to get together with people more often. Eat a dinner at home instead of a restaurant. Take a walk or a bike ride instead of driving to some event somewhere else. Read a book, go to a coffee shop, watch a local high school game. These are all activities that don't cost much yet have their own rewards. We think we are not missing much. And as more people in the country are talking cutting back, thinking small and local, we think we have a head start.

Last week someone in our small church commented on a big church national speaker they had heard on TV. He had spoken to thousands over Easter and baptized hundreds. It was an impressive service(s). We had a hundred or so in church and we baptize a few during the year. But, he said he was glad he could be a part of our church. He knows me, his pastor. He sees me at church, in the grocery store, at the coffee shop and at the local gym. He can stop by anytime and walk into my office. He can go to the quarterly business meeting and see how where every cent of his giving goes. He can find a place to serve in the church and he can help the church serve in the community. Small and local have their own rewards.

Maybe in this economic downturn/opportunity, more people will discover small and local. That would be a very good thing.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday and the Role of Women

Holy Saturday is a day to reflect on the death and burial of Jesus and the circumstances surrounding that event. Given the tensions in our Church community about the role of women in ministry (should they be allowed to preach? to be ordained? to hold leadership positions?), I was drawn to the several references to women in the gospel accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection. Matthew 27:55 says: " Now there were many women there, afar off, watching, women who had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, serving him." The Gospel writers all make it clear that the men, who get most of the press (not all good) in the Gospels were no where to be found when Jesus needed them the most. In their absence, the women kept showing up. They are at the crucifixion, the burial and they are the first witnesses of the resurrection ( it must have been their witness to the Gospel writers that helped them get their facts straight - interesting because they were not considered reliable witnesses in the society of their day). That women appear at all in these Gospel accounts and then that they are presented as witnesses attest to the credibility of the accounts themselves. It would have made sense to leave them out since their testimony was considered unreliable at the time. Apparently, God cares little for social convention.

They were not left out of the story because they were there, when the male disciples were not. In verse 55, Matthew says they "followed", using the Greek word for discipleship and they "served" using the word for diaconate. Women were not allowed to serve or even be in the presence of traditional rabbis. Although the presence of women is not mentioned often in the gospels (but see Luke 8:1-3), here we learn of a group of ministering women. In a culture and at a time when the place of women was very much in the background, Matthew lets us know that in Jesus' circle women were accepted as disciples and leaders. In fact, a case can be made that they were more faithful than most of the men. Mary Magdalene is one of the most faithful. Her name appears in verse 56. From an early date Mary Magdalene was honored in the church as "isapostolos" or "equal to the apostles" (see 28:7,10 where she is one of the first commissioned proclaimers of the Resurrection gospel). She turns up again at verse 61. She is "there" at the funeral for Jesus. One of only two, women.

In the Gospels women are "there" at the most significant places. Men had the dominant role in their culture but Jesus did not "see" women in the same way the culture did. In his circle of disciples they had opportunities to "follow" and to "lead". On Holy Saturday, some of the women turn up as the most faithful of all his followers.

Some in the church continue to "see" women in the same way as Jesus' culture did. They can serve in the background but they should not lead, or teach, or preach. They cannot be ordained to the ministry. This is at a time when the leadership skills of women are accepted in every other vocation. It is bewildering, to say the least, how this situation can persist. Women's gifts and skills are marginalized in some parts of the church. Are they second class citizens in the kingdom? Hardly. It is time for the whole church to recognize the place of women as co-leaders, co-deacons, co-pastors and servants of the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Opening Day

Monday was Opening Day for baseball (actually there was one game on Sunday night). Many of the teams played their first real baseball game of the 2009 season. The Red Sox were rained out and the WhiteSox were snowed out (after all it is the beginning of April). It snowed in Buffalo, too, which makes me feel a little better when I look outside at all the snow that has to go before we can play baseball in Kodiak. I watched the Yankees play their home opener in Baltimore. Their new stars they paid big bucks for in the offseason were total busts. But, it is the beginning of April and Texiera will eventually hit a ton and Sabathia will probably earn his keep on the mound (will he be worth 168 million? the same amount as the AIG bonuses?). Seattle got off to a winning start which is a relief after last year's misery. Junior even homered. Opening day is when every team has a chance to be playing in October (and November!). I usually read a baseball book before Opening Day and this year I read Joe Torre's book. It is by Torre but he "writes" it in the third person so Tom Vercducci of Sports Illustrated probably did most of the writing and Torre can say things without actually "saying" them. The best part of the book is the first part when Torre recounts the championship years of the late 90's and early 2000's. There is a painful section reminding us of the steroid era and then there is a section on the last few Yankee seasons when the wheels came off and the Yankees tried to buy a pennant every year. They picked up guys like Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, and Carl Pavano who didn't fit the Yankee mold and upset the clubhouse rhythms. There were other players Torre tolerated, as well, such as David Wells, Giambi, and of course Arod. The players called him Afraud and Torre reports that all Arod wanted to be was the best player in baseball. He could never understand why everyone loved Derek Jeter so much - and hated him - when he had more talent and better stats. Jeter was Torre's guy, the role model for a baseball player. He played hurt; he was a team guy all the way. He was a winner and personal stats did not matter. He was the anti - Arod. Torre would fill a team with Jeters, Cones, Mussinas, Bernie Williams'. Torre hated the way the Yankee front office treated Williams, one of the most underrated of all the Yankees. But in the end they treated Torre the same way. Offering him a pay cut loaded with incentives. Incentives! As if Joe Torre needed incentives to be a winner.

There are so many reasons to become cynical about baseball. The steroids, the prima donna athletes, the outrageous salaries and billion dollar stadiums which translate into ever more expensive seats (there are still some good deals out there if you sit in the bleachers or go to a game in Milwaukee or Kansas City!). But there are still a lot of players, like Jeter, that play the game the way it was meant to be played. And there are lots of places to watch baseball played simply for the love of the game. I just got back from Portland where I watched several college games. Good baseball and not one of the players was getting a scholarship and only one or two had a shot at getting drafted. And there is local baseball. I have a grandson who is finally old enough to play t-ball his year. So I have another chance to watch a game and maybe even coach again. Simple truth is: baseball is only a game but what a great game it is!