Friday, September 28, 2012

Nominating committee season

It's the Fall and while some people's thoughts turn to apple picking, and leaf raking, and football, pastors and other church leaders are thinking about the needs for church leadership in the coming new year. It's nominating committee season in most churches. Not a job most of us look forward to. Time is the new currency as they say today and that means no one thinks they have time to take on one more task. And serving on church boards and committees is not the sort of dream job most people are looking for. So the nominating committee is charged with a difficult task. How to convince people to serve on a committee they really don't want to be on when they are pressed for time to do the things they want to do. I have known desperate nominating committee members to plead with potential candidates for church committees, 'Oh it won't take much time. Just a hour or so a month, and everyone misses some meetings. I would so appreciate it if you would just fill this slot on the board for me! Thanks!"

It may have always been like this in the church even from New Testament times. The first letter from Paul to Timothy addresses Timothy's nominating committee concerns. In chapter 3, Paul lays out the qualifications Timothy should be looking for in church leaders. I find it helpful to review these every year. There is no quota for church leaders. No Scriptural number of elders or deacons a church needs to have. God gives leaders to the church and he doesn't care about how many slots we need to fill.

Church leadership is based on character and faith more than special skills or successes outside the church. The nominating committee needs to be asking who are the spiritually mature persons in our church. It's not a matter of filling slots but it is a matter of providing opportunities for those God has prepared, to lead. Every open slot may not be filled, and that is ok. It's not slots; it's service.

Paul tells Timothy that those chosen to serve must have good references from outsiders (v7). Now, there's a switch! But, I think what Paul is speaking to is the church's missional character. We are to be engaging with our wider community. We are seeking persons who serve who understand that. That we are not staffing our own spiritual club but we are building a mission outpost which wants to reach out for Christ in the place where we live. We are recruiting persons who want to serve others, outside of our own internal interests. We want to get them on board with us for that wider mission.

In v. 10, Paul mentions that the persons we are looking for to become church leaders not be new or naive Christians. They need to be tested. Church leadership is a tough job. People need to know that either by experience or training. We need to tell them up front. Here are some of the issues we are dealing with. Here are some of the conflicts. This is a job that means something. We are calling you because you have the gifts to help us move forward with God's mission but there will be obstacles. Nothing burns a Christian out more than serving on a church committee or board that he or she figured would be a piece of cake and instead finds himself or herself picking up the crumbs. Serving in the church "tests" our faith, our love, and our commitment. It is by meeting these tests that our spiritual life can grow deeper, though.

Nominating season doesn't have to be a bummer. Not if it is seen as a critical way of enabling others in the church to vitally engage in God's mission in our community.


Hurricane Katrina was seven years ago. New Orleans is still recovering and has dodged a bullet already this hurricane season. One of the most damaging storms to ever hit the US, Katrina's fallout was social chaos, and over 1400 deaths. While many residents were able to flee the city before the storm hit most of the elderly, the poor and disabled were left behind. Those without transportation were stuck. Some trusted the levees would hold. Even Pres Bush said he was surprised the levees were breached even though there were warnings for weeks. The city descended into chaos with rumors of massive looting and shootings. The 25,000 people holed up in the Superdome were without essentials like water, food, power, and security for days.

I revisited this nightmare this week reading David Egger's story of one man who stayed behind in New Orleans to help during the storm. Zeitoun is the name of the book and the name of the man who survived, barely, Katrina. It is a must read. Zeitoun is a Muslim, and American, and businessman and family man who had lived in New Orleans for years. He had a home remodel/painting business which he and his wife ran. He employed several people. He had been through many storms so while his family left to stay with friends, he chose to stay and keep watch over his business concerns. Soon he realized he was in over his head, literally,as the first floor of his home was under water. He lived on the roof for days and he took trips by canoe to see if others needed his help. He saved lives, and ferried the sick and elderly to safety. Praying every night he sensed God had him stay in the city to help others. He had a mission. What he failed to see was the sense of chaos and fear building in the city. He couldn't know what was happening or how bad it was because he had no power, no communication. All he had was a daily call to his wife who begged him to leave and join them but he was energized by his mission from God. He didn't know about Mayor Nagin's "martial law" or Governor Blanco's call for help to the military, who had M-16's and were trained to shoot and kill, and I am sure they will, as she said. The police and military came and heard reports of looting, and shootings, and even the possiblity of terror cells operating in the city and waiting for just a crisis like this to launch an attack. Zeitoun, the Muslim, was apprehended in one of the homes he owned and rented out, along with a Muslim friend, a professor at Tulane, and one of his renters. They were taken to a makeshift outdoor jail where they were housed in cages. No rights read, no court, no statement of charges, no phone call; no one knew where they were. They were kept that way for days. Without sleep, and few meals, and daily humiliations like being strip searched and forced to use toilets set out in the open, the men were broken down. Zeitoun spent a month in confinement; the others were held for almost a year.

It is a chilling story that you don't expect to read about citizens of the US experiencing in their own homeland. It's a powerful reminder of the need to advocate for basic civil rights for all people. For in times of uncertainty, those rights are the first to go.

Replacement Refs

The real refs are back. They were the ones getting cheered by the fans before the Ravens - Browns game Thursday night. Coach Harbaugh of the Ravens who was ready to throttle a replacement ref on Sunday night was seen hugging a real ref before the game on Thursday night. Everyone seemed in a good mood because the real guys were back. The game seemed to go off without a hitch, too. The replacement refs are gone, back to families, jobs and real life. For three weeks they got to ref real NFL action. They got paid $3,000 a game which is chickenfeed when you think about what they had to put up with. They were just home minding their own business in July, perhaps thinking about the upcoming high school or junior college football seasons in which they normally reffed when they got an email for NFL commish Roger Goodell. We need you, he wrote. Please consider reffing in the NFL this season. Wow, hard request to pass up if your a ref who never, ever, thought he would ref an NFL game. I wonder how many now wish they had forgotten to answer that email. After three weeks as an NFL ref they have been villified, threatened, treated disrespectfully on and off the field and become the butt of late night jokes on the tv talk shows. No one recognizes their service which allowed the games to go on because the NFL commish couldn't get his job done on time. No thank yous and most definitely no cheers for the replacement guys.

They were too slow to pick up the fast paced NFL games, it was said. They were inexperienced; high school or college games can not be compared to the NFL, the experts said. They were too intimidated by the players and the coaches, others explained. And this was not known before the replacements were thrown to the wolves?  By the third week, the experiment of replacement refs had gotten so far out of control, their lives were certainly in danger. Players menaced, coaches grabbed, and fans roared their disapproval, BULLSHI#, after every call. The NFL leadership was huddled in closed rooms bargaining with the real refs.

It's the Games that are out of control in this country. It's the Fans that are out of control in this country. We really have to pay officials hundred of thousands of dollars to ref less than 20 games a year! They have to study a rule book that is bigger than the US tax code in order to understand a game? Fans have the right to reign down abuse of the most vile nature because they don't like call.

Mr. Goodell, here is what you need to do. At halftime of an NFL game this Sunday you need to bring those replacement refs out at halftime, publicly thank them for their service under great duress and, for heavens sake, let them keep their NFL striped jerseys!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Finally got to see the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It's out on dvd this week. Since I watched the previews long ago, I have been waiting to see it. It's filled with good, old actors. I emphasize old. Most of the main characters are getting close to 80. Not too many years ago the only film they would have starred in would have been set in a nursing home. But, today we know 80 is the new 60, right.  And it seems to be. In the movie the main characters all end up in the same "hotel" for the elderly in India. It's supposed to be one of those all inclusive retirement places. It looks good on the brochure but it not so good in real life. All of the main characters arrive at the same time but by their own individual routes. They don't know each other before they meet at the hotel. But, they all share a need to reduce their living expenses in retirement and the hotel promises to do that. They have other needs, as well, like cheaper medical care, companionship, and meaning in later life. But, India! It is a huge change for nearly all of them. They are totally unprepared for the chaos they discover in their new country and the hotel. The enthusiastic hotel manager tries to put a positive spin on their new adventure even when everything goes wrong. "Everything will be good in the end and if it's not good, it's not the end." is his personal credo which he shares with each of them. The heart of the film is how each of the characters adapts to their new lives. Some are positive, and embrace the chaos. Some do not and compare everything with home and find their new life lacking in every way and only complain. Some take it slow, cautiously, like a person testing the water at a new beach, and in the process find themselves changing - in spite of themselves.

There's a message here that older folks can enjoy full and vital lives but the more important message is that we can change and adapt - and we have to - at any age. Any one can "be set in their ways". Elders are usually stereotyped that way. But, the message here is that the beauty of life is there, right there in front of you, if you care to look.


Lately I've been drawn to reading mysteries. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is that I am sensing more the mystery of life now that I am in my 60's. I've been a pastor a long time and if anything  teaches one to respect the mystery of life that does.  Why are some people interested in the Church and some are not? Why is God real to some and not to others? Why are some people passionate about matters of faith and some don't seem the least bit inquisitive? I can't figure it out. I have been surprised many times. I cannot predict whether someone will end up in the faith camp or not. I think most are on the way even if they don't know it yet. At least that's the way I approach people. What I do know is the life of a pastor makes you observant -  sort of a like a good detective has to be. I'm watching for signs of God in a person's life. There is no formula. There is no one "Godly" way of life. It seems for many of us, if we are honest - and it's hard to be honest, we are hanging on by a thread or God is hanging on to us by a thread. We need the help of others, but it is hard, too, to admit that. We are used are to thinking we have to do this on our own. I find many Christians seem to be suspicious of others,suspicious of  pastors, maybe they have been hurt by people in the church or by a pastor.  So people tend to hold back relationally.  It's as if we expect our Christian leaders to trip themselves up (not that it hasn't happened).  And we have to be prepared for that to happen. So, we act like we are much more sure of our faith then we really are. That is why we surprise ourselves and others by lapses of faith from time to time. We act so sure, so certain, of what we believe. We want others to be just as certain as we are and in the same way we are. We act like we are most comfortable when we all think and act alike. But, that just doesn't work - Paul spoke about the Church as a body with different parts working together not the same parts all working alike. And thinking and acting alike is boring as all get out. God is not boring and neither is what He is up to in the world. It is beautiful, glorious, and sparks a passion for living in us.

I think if we could talk more this way, if we could accept the mystery of life, and if we could admit that hey some days I feel like I'm just hanging in there - and I don't know the answers so will you pray with me. I think the Church would be healthier.

Mrs Jesus

Making the rounds this week of all the usual media outlets is a slightly sensational "finding" of a Harvard religion professor. She reported a discovery of a piece of a papyrus document (about the size of a cell phone) from around the 4th century that mentioned the words, "Jesus wife" - a reference to which she said has never been seen before. This report is an excerpt from an academic paper about this papyrus document she is working on. Potentially sensational,  it has made the front of the NY Times and other major online news sources. Other scholars have been just as quick to downgrade the seriousness of the discovery. No one really knows where it came from or even if it is genuine. It is like finding a paragraph out of an old book but not knowing what book it was out of. There were many hoaxes back then just as there are now - and it may be a much more recent forgery. Even if it is somehow proved to be as old as the Harvard prof claims it is - it is not surprising that the idea that Jesus had a wife was around back then. There have been a number of other gospels found which claim all sorts of things about the life of Jesus which were not true. Recently, Dan Brown popularized the idea that Jesus had a wife in the Davinci Code (and he and Mary Magdalene lived happily ever after post crucifixion). So it should not surprise anyone that the the idea of Jesus being married was floated a time or two in antiquity.

What is surprising is the media attention an announcement like this attracts. As if it would be sensational news if Jesus did have a wife. There is no reason that if Jesus did have a wife it would not have been reported in the Gospels. Jesus had a mother and a father, and siblings and they are all named. He went to weddings. He could have married and had children. In fact, most parents would have welcomed some instruction on raising kids from Jesus! But, even though Jesus blessed marriages and children, family life was not his calling. He was here on earth a short time and his life ended tragically from a human point of view. His death pierced Mary's heart, why extend the sorrow to others. Jesus' mission was the message of the Kingdom of God. To preach it and to live it. And to share it with others by his sacrificial death on the cross. Then, he was raised from the dead offering the gift of eternal life to us. Philippians says he gave up a lot to complete that mission. Including the joys and demands of family life.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Parenthood, season 4

We've watched the tv series Parenthood the past few years. The premiere of season 4 was this week. The children are growing up. Some are off to college or post high school jobs. What began as a show about the challenges families face depicted in a light hearted way has become a more serious show with a pretty obvious agenda. In this season's first show, Amber,  the 20 year old niece of the Braverman brothers, Adam and Crosby, is working for them at their new music production studio. She is the receptionist/ errand girl. One of the guys in a band whose music the studio is producing flirts with her. He sends her a note to call him. Next scene, they are in bed together. Next day, the guys steady girlfriend brings some muffins by the studio to celebrate their six month anniversary. Amber looks a little surprised but really it's no big deal, you know. She tells Crosby for whom it is no big deal, you know. Adam, however, is the older brother with the older,  more traditional values. He freaks out and screams at the band to get out of the studio. Crosby can't believe it. Amber lectures Adam on interfering in her 20 year old life. I mean, whose the grown up here. This is life and sex and dating today. Adam says he was protecting her honor. He didn't want that jerk to just use her. Really? Amber is ok with it and Adam comes around to this new wisdom and apologizes - for what- wanting to protect her honor? Guess so.

The second theme in this first show of the season had to do with Crosby and Jasmine who had a child, Jabbar, some eight years ago but just got married at the end of last season. In the first episode, Jabbar is seen kneeling at his bed praying. Crosby who sees him praying is more upset than if he had caught him looking at porn or doing drugs. He talks to Jasmine who knows the source of Jabbar's religious longings is her mother. So, Crosby decides to talk to his mother in law. He lays down the law that in his home he and Jasmine will be responsible for his child's religious training. So, she should butt out. What do you believe, she asks Crosby. Well, it's clear he doesn't believe anything in any traditional sense. Later in the show when he and Jabbar are sitting outside looking at the star filled night sky he teaches his son that he believes in him, and his mother and family. He feels blessed but he's not sure if there is a "someone" who had anything to do with it or not. That's it.

Wisdom is found where we find it. It is what seems right and good to us. Those people who are older are not to be trusted - at least not in the areas of sex or religion. All they do is parrot the traditional beliefs of the past which we all know don't work any more. The older brother who has raised a family is not hip to today's sexual ethic and Gramma's church doesn't have any answers to the big questions people ask today.

Where is wisdom today? Guess you just have to find it in yourself or in the stars.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

NFL, AOA (all over again)

So it's football time again. The first NFL game was on Wednesday night. The replacement refs did a pretty good job. Today's Wall Street Journal online had a quick quiz to see if you could be a replacement ref. Six scenarios. I got them all right. So, should I be a replacement ref? No, I got them right but I had the reasons all wrong. The rules are complicated! I guess the replacement refs have a tough job. Chances are good they will not have many easy nights like they did last night. Hurry up and get the real ones on the field!

What are the other big questions of the new season? Will the Giants repeat as Super Bowl champs? (not after watching them last night!). Will Manning be an improvement over Tebow in Denver? (we'll probably know after he takes a hard hit or two). Who will be the most exciting new QB? (Wilson in Seattle, or RG3 in Washington, or Luck in Indy or Romo in Dallas - he's not new but he looked it last night). Will all the money the Bills spent help them win and/or keep them in Buffalo? (I'm betting yes on the first part of that question and no on the second part). Will the Pats be back? (yes they will play the Packers in the Super Bowl if you believe the preseason hype but we know it will be the Bills - Seahawks in the Big Game.Don't we?)

And one long term question: will the NFL survive it's success? No, the controversy over concussions will force the game to change too much - it will have to become slower, with more rules to protect the players, and more penalties, and fewer big time hits that the fans love. (Remember the "Jacked Up" segment of ESPN - kinda makes you cringe now). The studies will continue to show that former NFL players suffer more neurological problems than the average and the expensive lawsuits from former players and their families will make the biggest hits on the league until major changes in how pro football is played are implemented. Flag football, anyone?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Faith of Cranes

I loved the book Faith of Cranes by Hank Lentfer. I read it on Kindle but I am ordering a hard copy so I can share it with Marcia and others. It might turn up under a few Christmas trees this Christmas, as well. If you love Alaska you will probably like this book. If you have ever despaired, even mildly, of what we are doing to the wilderness, you will probably like this book. If you have grown cynical about modern civilization, you will probably like this book. If you need a revival of faith in the beauty of life, the splendid idea of life (as Lentfer calls it), you will probably like this book. If you like to hunt, fish, or hike, you will probably like this book. If you ever thought you wanted to find a wild few acres and build your own home, hunt for your own food, heat your home with a wood stove, and take long walks next to the ocean, you will probably like this book. If you have children or like to look at life through their eyes, you will probably like this book. If you are afraid of death, the death of our culture, the death of the wilderness, or your own death, you will probably like this book. Probably, I am not saying you will because I am sure there are reasons people might not like this book. I am not aware of them at the moment.

The monks of the early church (and some modern day ones) took a vow of obedience to stay in one place. The vow of stability they called it. To care for one place, and for all those who pass by that place. To care for the land and the people. To be undistracted by all the important and exciting stuff going on in other places. To grow roots. To learn and hopefully grow wise. To appreciate the beauty that is there.

"If lamenting the loss of beauty is itself a beautiful act, can beauty really ever diminish?"

Small things lovingly done, are always within our reach" (David James Duncan)