Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The GO Space

From my daily devotions, drawing from the Moravian Daily Texts.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Resonating with Brokenness?

I pursue a practice of daily devotions (note: pursuing is not the same as achieving) and when my devos are suitable for public view I often post them on my Feral Pastor Facebook page.  A recent post there that touched on the experience of brokenness, and how "cheering people up" is often not the best approach, seemed to get more attention that most.  Maybe that's just because simply naming the reality of brokenness has a powerful resonance with a lot of people.  Whatever the reason, I thought I'd also post that reflection here in case it was a blessing to others.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Burning Out?

Wrote this for the blog at my church but thought I'd post it here as well.

Here’s a parable for you:
Are you the engine?  Are you the “man?”  You may well be both at the same time!
What do you expect out of yourself, out of your life and the others around you?  What does the world and your workplace expect?
What does Jesus expect?
Jesus said – no, scratch that – Jesus says; “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”  That’s from Matthew 11:27-29.
I also love, love, love this version from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(By the way… be aware that even if you are a Christian and feel pretty good about that, the actual “religion” you are practicing may well be Busyness, or Other People’s Expectations, or My Own Expectations, or Success, or The American Dream or whatever.  These are killer religions, and burning you out is their preferred form of human sacrifice.)
If you want a job to do and something to work on for Jesus, consider this one: become a living, prophetic witness to a different way of life that gives life, rather than destroys it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Faith in Community

I've heard it said that one of the beauties of community is that in the  times when it's hard for us to believe, others can "believe for us."  Here's a little reflection on on that.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The "Kodak Moment" of the Church according to Thom Schultz

Here's a nice, brief blog post from Thom Schultz, the founder of Group Publishing with the "Kodak" analogy for the church, if you haven't encountered it before.  Kodak was the only game in town for film, but has been wiped out by digital photography... a technology they invented!

In that analogy, I'd say that sticking with film for photography in the digital age corresponds to sticking with programs, property, professionals/pastors, and presentational worship in the post-Christendom age.  But that's just me.

Or more succinctly, it's the mistake of thinking we are in the "large group weekly worship" business.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Forgiveness and Confession... in that order.

We typically speak of "confession and forgiveness" and do them in that order. My devotions this morning touch on the opportunity to reverse the order, and enter into confession in the confidence that comes from knowing you are forgiven.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Helpful Lenses for Devotions and Discipleship

In my work with 3dm as a discipling tool I've picked up some valuable "lenses" that can be put on like
glasses to help me interpret and even see things.  For example, one 3dm lens is the Triangle, which invites us to consider our relationships with God (Up), other believers (In) and everyone else (Out).  In my devotions this morning, that lens gave me a second and third look at a verse I might have otherwise skipped over because it "didn't connect with me."

(Note - here's an introduction to the SOAP format for devotional journaling I'm using.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Salvation Sounds in Lutheran Ears

The way that Lutherans tend to think of salvation is really nicely represented by the following passage from Ezekiel. Note how the activity of God has priority and primacy throughout, and obedience emerges at the initiative of the Spirit who has already been given. Even the awareness and regret over one's sinfulness shows up as an after-effect, rather than a prerequisite for the arrival of the Spirit and the gift of a new heart. (Gotta love the irony here: only a new heart is capable of regret over sin it seems.)

Ezekiel 36:24-31 NIV

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Favorite Metaphors: Asteroid Field Navigation

I want to start collecting some of the metaphors and visuals that I keep returning to and thought I'd start with Asteroid Field Navigation. I touched on this briefly once before in the context of making "mistakes" but thought I'd brush it off and represent it.

Asteroid Field Navigation
Back in the days of Lewis and Clark they could spend a few years making a map, hand it over to you, and it would still work because all the mountains and rivers were right where they left them. In our world, the terrain itself is unstable, and it's better still to go the next step and just acknowledge that there is no terrain period. Instead, we travel and navigate in an asteroid field where everything is in motion, including us.  If you try to make a map, you won't succeed because by the time it's done, it's obsolete, and you've probably been hit by an asteroid in the mean time anyway.

But navigation is still possible. They way you do it is by constant course correction in a three step process.

First, orient yourself by quickly getting sufficient clarity about where you are and where you are going. "Where you are" includes getting a bead on the rocks in motion around you, especially those on a collision course.

Second, move. Take some action that avoids catastrophe, utilizes immediate opportunity and moves you in the direction of the destination even if it's not a straight-line course. (Fellow geeks will enjoy visualizing this with vectors.)

Finally, now that you have initiated movement, your whole context has shifted. So go back to step one and start over. Orient, Act, Repeat.

Spells OAR. Cute, huh?  That's just icing on the cake, speaking metaphorically.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Contradictory Theologies as a Guard Against Intellectual Idolatry.

I pursue a practice of daily devotions and journaling using the SOAP format, which I highly recommend.  Of late, I've begun posting photos of my journal entries as an easy way of sharing my life with others that are my travelling partners in the faith.  (Much easier than re-typing everything!)  So below is a photo of my entry for today.  It's a reminder that faith is about trusting a person, not confidence in a particular way of thinking about Him.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Baptism as a Binding of God - Metaphor from Adoption

Talking about baptism has a tendency to start fights among Christians, but I gave in to the urge to offer a key metaphor for me in a post on another blog so I thought I'd let folks here have a look too.

"Maybe the significance of baptism isn't in what it "does to" the baptized, but in what it "does to God." Perhaps baptism is a way God has empowered us to "bind God" to the person being baptized in a way that has eternal, spiritual significance.

For a metaphor, consider this. I traveled to Vietnam years ago, empowered by my wife to legally bind her (and me) to a child through my own signature on her behalf. Signing my name is a routine and frequently meaningless act, but in this context, it had huge, real and lasting significance for me, my wife and the child. (Her name is Amy.) In the same way, washing with water is usually not very meaningful, but in the context of baptism that act could have real significance.

The metaphor could be extended to address some of the other struggles around baptism. Suppose my wife and I had made a personal commitment to provide in every way possible for the welfare of the child *regardless of whether the formal adoption was allowed to go through.* Our ability to deliver everything our hearts desired to Amy might have been hindered if the formalities couldn't be enacted... (it wold have been pretty hard to get her out of the country and situated with American citizenship, for example!) Who knows, maybe we would have ended up finding it necessary to "move into the neighborhood" (See John 1:14 the Message) and become citizens of Vietnam in order to follow our hearts and care for the child we had *unilaterally* claimed as our own. When you use this metaphor as a lens, you can see nicely that the underlying commitment is the real thing, the main thing, but it's also helpful to have the formalities enacted since that 1) makes the commitment public to all and 2) makes it much easier for the blessings of the relationship to flow to the child."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Celebrity Endorsement of The Feral Pastor

I am thrilled to announce that the Feral Pastor Facebook Page has just been "liked" by none other than KVB Luther!

Truly, if I had bothered to create a bucket list, this would surely have been on it.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Membership Decline in the ELCA

Yes, numbers don't tell the whole story.  Yes, "membership" is not the best or only indicator of congregational vitality, much less faithfulness.  Yes, for some people this is old, old news.  Yet I continue to find people are generally unaware of the decline we are experiencing in my tribe, and those that have a sense of it don't readily have a sense of scale to go with it.  So, let me provide the visual that has haunted and energized me since I first began to attend to it about 10 years ago.

Primary data from Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future,
with more recent statistics added.
As a percentage of the US population (which has continued to grow year after year) this shows a trend of decline, unbroken for half a century.

However people may parse the causes and debate the responses, it's been clear to me since the get-go that a response is needed.  And given the "inertia" stored in a system with such a long-term shape to it's life (spanning at least two generations) I've always expected that the response will need to be very, very significant if it is to "turn things around" in any meaningful sense.

My own response has been to explore the possibilities for Christian missional community outside the core conventions of congregational life: pastors, property, programs and presentational (large group) worship.  This led me initially to folks in the house church movement, and more recently to those who are focusing on making disciples per se.  

They have a nifty saying: if you plant a church, you may or may not get disciples.  But if you make disciples, the Church will arise.

So, I am now moving my top ministry priority into directly discipling and equipping leaders.  Not just "church leaders" in the typical sense.  Leaders who will directly disciple and train others.  I am learning how to do this from the folks at 3dm, as I have found their material and approach to be excellent, and their theology to be wonderfully lean and hugely resonant with Lutheranism.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Well, today I am 54 years old and thinking, if I play my cards right, I just might hit my stride in the next year or two.  ;)

I am totally jazzed to share a birthday with my friend Caroline Ticarro-Parker, who is the founder and leader of the Catalyst Foundation.  Catalyst works to build communities in Vietnam to fight human trafficking.  So in addition to sharing a birthday, we share a passion for the people and especially the children of Vietnam - in part because we have both adopted children from there!

Now, someone else who knows and loves Caroline and her work has put up a $10,000 matching grant for a water project in honor of her birthday!  So if you want to help me celebrate, you can invite a thirsty person in Vietnam to join you in a toast by making a contribution to Catalyst.

The matching grant is for today only, so if you're inspired, now is the time to act! Follow this link to the water project on the Catalyst website.
Thanks for your interest in my blog and my journey!  Let's share the joy together!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leaning into Transformation in the "Experience Economy"

My friend Rich Melheim posted the following comment about The Experience Economy, a book aimed at secular marketing and business:

"SUMMER READING: In "The Experience Economy" (the only business book I've seen dedicated to the "author and perfector of our faith") the book starts with a value graph, showing that people don't value commodities, goods, or services much any more. We value experiences. By the end of the book, we see that experience isn't even the top value. The top value is transformation. That puts your "service" in the center of things people no longer value. When I say "forget the IHS" (one hour service), I mean the one-way show you put on for people. It has little value any more. Get EPIC (experiential, participatory, image driven, conversational) a la Leonard Sweet."

I've written before about the limited bang for the buck in Sunday morning worship, and affirmed but challenged the relative value we put on large vs. small gatherings in the first blog post I ever wrote, using the food pyramid as a metaphor.   But radical realignment is an unlikely challenge for a congregation to take on.  

Even so, we can use this to frame our thinking.  For conventional-model congregations (i.e. programs, property, professionals and presentational worship), how can you clearly and effectively leverage *each* of those four aspects of your life towards transformation?

And for my friends in 3dm and related movements, (house church, Life Transformation Groups etc.) here's yet another confirmation of your instinct to set aside most of the apparatus of conventional church so that life-on-life can really be your focus.  That is, I'm convinced, where the most fertile soil is for transformation.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Mission from Old Congregations?

A friend in a Facebook clergy forum was wondering how an established church might be able to participate in some of the "new things" going on missionally without abandoning wholesale the forms and expressions that have fed and continue to feed those who have been there for a while. Here's what I shared on that:

"Awesome question! What it might look like, I think, will depend first of all on the economics of your current congregation. If they are, like most, working hard just to keep the doors open then a both/and scenario is going to be really hard to envision. If I can assume that you're not in survival mode, then here are a couple of ideas that might at least be good for stirring the pot:

1. Provide financial support to a "home front missionary." Most people get the idea of a missionary as someone you give $$$ to, who then goes somewhere far away (where there are reported to be some non-Christians) and once in a while reports back. The missionary does not preach or teach at your church (except maybe once a year) and the people that join his/her congregation do not help pay your bills. Leverage this idea to support a missionary to the people who are *culturally* distant in your area, but with *no* expectation that the will join your church. The missionary then has freedom to help the evangelized to develop a non-conventional form of congregational life that fits their culture and is both reproducible and financially sustainable. (For more on this, check out this old blog post of mine.)

2. Release a batch of folks from your current congregation to be a "missionary band" and support them in inventing a new mode of congregational life. Be sure they take their offerings with them!

3. Offer an alternative confirmation track for those who are interested in being "missionaries to the future." Train these young people to function like the missionary band in #2 and hugely empower and encourage them to take ownership of the formation and leadership of their own congregation. (Confirmation as mission developer training. This will have some very salutary effects on the design and content of your confirmation program, I think.)"

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jesus, Orpheus, and Evangelism by Beauty

I've always been troubled by evangelism that needs to make people afraid of something so they will flee to Jesus.  Isn't it possible to present something that's inherently more desirable in the first place?  So I was delighted to discover a piece of Greek mythology I'd never heard before that expresses that idea.  It's the story of Orpheus and the Sirens.

To back up a bit... The Sirens were creatures who sang so beautifully that the sailors who heard their song could not resist going towards it.  They would throw themselves into the sea and perish on the rocks around the Sirens' island.  I knew the story of how Odysseus found a way to hear the song and survive: he had his crew lash him to a mast and plug their own ears with wax before sailing by.  Crafty one, that Odysseus.  But I had never heard there was another who got his crew past this peril as well.  It's a story of Orpheus who sailed with Jason and his Argonauts.

Orpheus was the greatest of musicians and had been invited to sail with Jason for just this situation.  As they approached the island of the Sirens, Orpheus began to to sing and play on his lyre, and his song was more enchanting that that of the Sirens, so the crew stayed with him and sailed past to safety.

To me, that's the image of evangelism I want to strive for.  To "sing a better song" that people would find even more compelling than whatever other songs have captured their hearts before.  Or better yet, casting Jesus as the Orpheus character, to introduce people to the Singer Himself.

You can do evangelism by fear.  But wouldn't it be better to do evangelism by beauty?